Syrian President Bashar Assad is interviewed by Chinese state television… (Syrian Arab News Agency )
BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad promised Monday to comply with international efforts to remove his chemical weapons, even as he sharply criticized the United States and other Western powers for proposing a United Nations resolution that would add teeth to the deal.
In an interview in Damascus, the Syrian capital, with Chinese state television, Assad said the U.S., France and Britain wanted "to appear victorious in their battles against an imaginary enemy, which they assume is Syria."
He also warned that rebels seeking to overthrow his government would attempt to disrupt the work of international inspectors trying to catalog and impound Syria's chemical weapons. But he said that "there is nothing to worry about" because the weapons, which Syria only recently acknowledged possessing, are "in secure sites" under army control.
Under pressure from the United States and Russia, Syria agreed Sept. 14 to abide by the international Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the production, storage and use of chemical weapons.
A spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which implements the convention, said Monday that Syria had finished submitting an initial disclosure of its weapons program, the first step before inspectors can begin their mission, and that technical experts were studying it.
The State Department hasn't yet reviewed the document, a senior official said. "We will make an evaluation of the document after it has been distributed to member states" by the OPCW, the official said.
Assad insisted that the information in the disclosure was "credible."
"Since its independence, Syria has been committed to all the treaties it has signed," he said. "We will honor everything that we have agreed to do."
Russia and China have so far blocked efforts by Western powers to invoke Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which could allow the use of force if Syria fails to comply with the chemical weapons agreement. Assad praised Russia and China for removing any "justification for an attack on Syria."
President Obama's deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, said the United States would continue to press for a strong U.N. Security Council resolution that includes the threat of military force. Speaking aboard Air Force One as Obama was traveling to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Rhodes said the disarmament plan could pave the way for negotiations to end Assad's rule.
"We have called upon nations like Russia and Iran to acknowledge the fact that Assad cannot regain legitimacy after slaughtering his people and that part of a political process inside of Syria will involve, necessarily, Assad stepping down from power," Rhodes said.
Under the terms of the Sept. 14 agreement, international inspectors are to arrive in Syria by November and impound or destroy all of its chemical weapons by the middle of next year. U.S. officials believe Syria possesses one of the largest stockpiles in the world.
The United States has blamed the Syrian government for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on Damascus suburbs and says the attack claimed more than 1,400 lives.
Assad maintains that rebels carried out the attack.
Fighting continues in Syria, where the leader of an Al Qaeda-linked rebel group was assassinated Sunday, activists said, further inflaming hostilities among opposition factions fighting to oust Assad. Abu Abdullah Libi, the self-styled emir of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the northern province of Idlib, was passing through a checkpoint operated by the mainstream rebel group Free Syrian Army when he was shot to death, according to an activist with close ties to his group.
A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army denied that its fighters were involved.
Special correspondent Bulos reported from Beirut and Times staff writer Bengali from New York. Staff writer Raja Abdulrahim in Los Angeles contributed to this report.