We’ll abide by UN resolution on chemical weapons vows Assad

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Syria’s president Bashar Assad says his government will abide by the UN resolution calling for the country’s chemical weapons programme to be dismantled and destroyed.

He told Italy’s RAI News 24 TV “of course we have to comply. This is our history to comply with every treaty we sign.”

He also says he is willing to discuss a political solution to Syria’s crisis, but he rules out talking with armed rebels until they give up their weapons.

Video of the interview was posted on the Syrian presidency’s official Facebook page.

Earlier foreign minister Walid al-Moallem said Syria’s government will not accept any transition peace plan that excludes President Assad, Mr al-Moallem spoke in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, a day after the UN Security Council approved the resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

The resolution also endorsed the outcome of the Geneva conference between the government and the opposition in June 2012, which called for the establishment of a transitional government with full executive powers.

The Syrian opposition, which has been embroiled in a bloody conflict with Assad’s forces for two and a half years, has repeatedly said it will not take part in any transition government that includes the president.

The latest statement from Mr al-Moallem could mean that efforts to organise a second meeting of the opposition and the government later this year in Geneva, Switzerland, may fail.

“For the Syrian people, Bashar Assad is the elected president until mid-2014, when presidential elections will be held,” Mr al-Moallem said. Other candidates were welcome to run under the country’s constitution, he added, stressing that only the Syrian people could choose their president, not outside governments or the opposition, which is based abroad.

Syria’s opposition accuses Assad’s government of carrying out a brutal campaign against Syrians that culminated in a nerve gas attack in suburbs of the capital, Damascus, on August 21 that left hundreds dead. The government denies its involvement in the attack, has since pledged to give up its stockpile of chemical weapons.

Mr al-Moallem also repeated his government’s belief that its army is fighting terrorist elements affiliated with al-Qaida. “Those terrorist elements are supported by neighbouring countries like Turkey and Jordan and some Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” he said. Iran has been a key supporter of Assad and the opposition claims that elements of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the Tehran-supported Hezbollah are operating freely within Syria.

But Mr al-Moallem said the warming of Iranian-US relations over the past week was not a threat to his government.

“We are happy about this rapprochement,” he said. “This will have a positive impact on the American view of the region.”

Meanwhile, Government warplanes have bombed a high school in northern Syria, killing at least 12 people, most of them students, according to an activist group. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the regime airstrike took place yesterday in the city of Raqqa, which is the only Syrian provincial capital under rebel control.

In another development, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Tel Aviv for New York yesterday saying he is going to the UN to “tell the truth in the face
of the sweet talk and the onslaught of smiles,” a reference to Iran’s diplomatic overtures to the West.

It is the Israeli government’s first reaction to last week’s telephone call between US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first such phone call between US and Iranian presidents in three decades.