WASHINGTON, Sept 8: Syrian President Bashaar al Assad told a US television channel on Sunday that he didn’t have anything to do with a chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus last month.
US President Barack Obama, however, insists that the Syrian regime ordered the Aug 21 strike that killed hundreds of civilians and is determined to launch punitive military strikes on Syria.
Separately, US Secretary of State John Kerry told The Huffington Post that he believed President Obama had the right to order air strikes even if Congress refused to authorise him to do so.
In another interview, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said that resistance in the United States to the proposed military strikes was ‘understandable’.
Secretary Kerry made a similar statement, acknowledging that the vast majority of American lawmakers remained undecided on this issue.
President Assad rejected President Obama’s allegations against him in an interview he gave to a US television anchor Charlie Rose on Sunday morning in Damascus.
The Syrian leader warned that “there would be, among people that are aligned with him, some kind of retaliation if a strike was made”. Mr Assad, however, “would not even talk about the nature of the response,” Mr Rose said while previewing the interview for CBS.
“He does accept some of the responsibility” for the Aug 21 attack but rejected the suggestion that he ordered the strikes, the interviewer said.
“I asked that very question: ‘Do you feel any remorse?’ He said, ‘Of course I do,’ but it did not come in a way that was sort of deeply felt inside,” Mr Rose said.
“It was much more of a calm recitation of anybody who’s a leader of a country would feel terrible about what’s happened to its citizens.”
President Assad also had a message for the American people, reminding them “that it had not been a good experience for them to get involved in the Middle East in wars and conflicts ... that the results had not been good”.
Excerpts of the interview will be aired on Monday morning on CBS and the entire interview on Monday night on The Charlie Rose Show on PBS.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration considered its campaign to persuade American citizens and Congress to support military action against Syria.
President Obama will conduct six television interviews on Monday to make his case, and on Tuesday he will address his nation.
But despite these efforts, Secretary Kerry acknowledged that “the vast majority of members of Congress, House and Senate, are undecided” on this issue.And the US media reported on Sunday that the lawmakers were receiving hundreds of calls a day from their constituents, “a large majority urging them to vote against a military strike”.
President Obama’s chief of staff said he understood why people were opposing the strikes.
“That’s an absolutely understandable sentiment, given all the sacrifice and investment the United States has made, and our armed forces have made in the last 11 and 12 years, Mr McDonough said on Fox News Sunday.”