Even while directing a brutal campaign of suppression and murder against his own people, Bashar al-Assad still finds time to laugh about the little things.
The Syrian president had local reporters in stitches on Monday, after one asked a question about the recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). “The prize should have been mine,” Assad “quipped,” according to the Lebanese al-Akhbar newspaper.
The ironic wisecrack shows Assad is careful to maintain a sense of perspective, and not take the deaths of at least 115,000 fellow Syrians too seriously. Other knee-slappers by the president include his claim that “we don’t kill our own people.”
Over the last two and a half years the Syrian president has relentlessly targeted rebel-held towns and cities with indiscriminate shelling and bombing, at times deliberately attacking civilians lining up outside of bakeries. Numerous reports also indicate the massacre of civilians by pro-government militias, most conspicuously at the town of Houla in May 2012.
In August, the United States and other Western nations accused Assad of perpetrating a chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that killed more than 1,400, mostly civilians.
At other times during the meeting Assad spoke more seriously, telling reporters he does not believe planned peace talks with Syrian rebels in Geneva will be held and warning the West that their Free Syrian Army allies are “almost done for.”
He also dismissed claims that destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile will weaken his regime, arguing that Syria’s huge missile arsenal and advances in anti-chemical technology had already made the weapons obsolete.
The OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday for their work in helping create, and now implement, a plan to dismantle Syria’s 1,000 tons of chemical weapons and their precursors. The 100-person team has been on the ground for around a week and has already faced setbacks, but experts say that plans to destroy all weaponized chemicals by November 1 is still possible.
President Obama, a somewhat dubious recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize himself, congratulated the OPCW. “This award honors those who make it their life’s work to advance this vital goal,” a White House statement read on Friday.
But other world leaders, perhaps a bit miffed at being passed over for the Prize, were less pleased. A Russian politician called it “absolutely unfair” that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not receive the Prize for brokering the disarmament deal between Syria and the United States.
“Who forced Syria to destroy chemical weapons, if not Putin?” asked State Duma Deputy Iosif Kobzon.
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