Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has admitted that he has made “mistakes” but is refusing to talk to the rebels fighting to oust him and continues to describe them as “terrorists.”
Assad spoke to the German weekly Der Spiegel. Excerpts of the interview, which will appear in the Monday issue of the magazine, were published on Saturday.
"We did not use chemical weapons," he told the magazine. "This is a misstatement. So is the picture you paint of me as a man who kills his own people."
Assad expressed doubts about the United Nations report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus, which the U.S. and its allies have fingered his regime for.
"No one can say with certainty that rockets were used," he said, accusing the rebels themselves of using sarin gas.
Addressing the chemical weapons inspections now beginning in Syria, Assad said, "We're very transparent. The experts can go to every site. They are going to have all the data from our government."
Until the weapons are destroyed, they will remain "under full control," he pointed.
Assad also criticized the international community, accusing the West of being “more confident in Al-Qaeda than me" and, referring to U.S. President Barack Obama, adding, "The only thing he has is lies."
In contrast, Assad described the Russians as "our real friends," adding that they "understand the reality here much better."
Asked if he believes a solution to the Syrian crisis could still be negotiated, he replied, "With the militants? No. Because by its very definition, a political opposition doesn't have an army."
Assad also raised the prospect of early elections before his term as president expires in August 2014. "I'm not in a position to say right now whether I will run or not," he said, adding, "If I no longer know that I have the will of the people behind me, then I will not run."
He also conceded that he there were “personal mistakes made by individuals. Every human makes mistakes. A president also makes mistakes."
One can't just say "they did everything and we did nothing, 100 percent and zero percent," he added. Reality has "shades of gray."
On Thursday, 20 experts from the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), officially began work.
The technical groups will focus on three tasks, the verification of the information handed over by the Syrian government, the safety and security of the inspection teams, and practical arrangements for implementing the work plan.
The inspectors’ work in Syria is based on the deal made by Russia and the U.S. after the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus.
The deal stipulates that the regime’s stockpile be dismantled by the middle of next year and the UN mission is expected to continue until then.
The OPCW has received documents from the Syrian regime detailing its arsenal, which is believed to include more than 1,000 tons of sarin, mustard gas and other banned chemicals stored at an estimated 45 sites.