Syrian president Bashar al-Assad slammed President Obama and again denied his government’s role in a chemical attack against civilians in an interview Monday with the French newspaper Le Figaro.
“For us, a strong man prevents rather than starts a war…Obama is weak because he is facing pressure from within the United States,” al-Assad said.
Obama recently decided to seek authorization for military invention in Syria from Congress. Seventy-nine percent of Americans, including 90 percent of Republicans, said last week that they believed Obama should seek congressional approval for intervention, according to an NBC News poll.
In the interview, al-Assad challenged Obama and French president Francois Hollande to present evidence that the Syrian government, which is engaged in a civil war against various rebel groups, used chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb August 21, killing 1,426 people, including children.
The White House claims that al-Assad’s military was responsible for the attack, which violated the Obama administration’s “red line” and an international norm barring the use of chemical weapons. Hollande pledged to support a U.S. intervention.
“Those who make accusations must show evidence. We have challenged the United States and France to come up with a single piece of proof. Obama and Hollande have been incapable of doing so,” al-Assad said.
al-Assad said that U.S. military intervention could have disastrous consequences for the region.
“We shouldn’t just talk about a Syrian response, but what will happen after the first strike. Everybody will lose control of the situation when the powder keg blows. There is a risk of a regional war,” al-Assad said.
“We are fighting terrorists. 80-90% of those we are fighting belong to al-Qaeda. They are not interested in reform or in politics. The only way to deal with them is to annihilate them,” al-Assad said in the interview.
Obama told Republican Sen. John McCain in a private White House meeting Monday that his administration plans to “upgrade the capabilities” of the rebel Free Syrian Army by sending new advanced weapons, according to McCain.