Syrian President Bashar Assad warned America and its allies to expect multiple forms of retaliation, possibly including a chemical attack, if the US goes ahead with a military strike on Syria, in remarks published Monday by CBS News.
Assad, speaking to Charlie Rose in a Damascus interview, said Syria was “not the only player in the region” and, if an attack occurs, the US and allies in return “should expect everything. Not necessarily from the government.”
“You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. You have everything in this region now,” Assad said, in what CBS News said was likely a reference to his close allies Iran and Hezbollah, which have threatened to hit Israel.
When asked if the response to a US attack could include chemical weapons, the Syrian leader replied that “it could happen” but only “if the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have it.”
“I don’t know. I’m not a fortune teller,” Assad added. Damascus currently maintains that rebel groups hold chemical weapons.
Assad was “remarkably calm” during the interview, even when discussing claims that he had used chemical weapons on his own people, Rose told “CBS Evening News” on Sunday.
In an excerpt posted online at CBS, Assad continued to deny that his government has used chemical arms and said that “we are not sure that anything happened.”
“Our soldiers, in another area, were attacked chemically,” Assad said. “But in the area where they say the government used chemical weapons, we only have video, pictures and allegations. We were not there, our forces, our police, our institutions, don’t exist,” he added.
“How can you talk about what happened if you don’t have evidence?” Assad asked, adding that the the US has so far not produced “a single shred” of evidence linking his government to the attack.
Rose’s full interview with Assad is scheduled to be broadcast on PBS’s “Charlie Rose Show” on Monday evening in the US, and excerpts are to be shown on “CBS This Morning,” airing at 7 a.m. Eastern Time Monday.
Israeli officials have ramped up preparations in the past weeks ahead of expected US military action against Syria, though they have also tried to calm the country, saying there is little chance Syria, Iran or terror group Hezbollah will retaliate, as they have threatened.
Turkey and Jordan have also begun to boost readiness in preparation for possible US action. Over the past couple of days, the Turkish army was reported to have stationed anti-aircraft missile batteries along the country’s border with Syria, according to Israel Radio.
In Jordan, security officials said authorities had begun taking precautions ahead of a US strike, according to an Israel Radio report Sunday, citing Jordanian media.
The possible US strike would come in response to a reported chemical attack by the Syrian regime in late August that left some 1,400 people dead according to an American assessment. Obama is hoping to get approval from Congress later this week for a “limited” punitive response.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials have assessed a “low” probability of the Assad regime or its allies hitting Israel in response to a US-led attack on Syria, though Syrian and Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to strike Israel if Obama goes ahead with military intervention.
Aaron Kalman and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.