Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Philip Elliott / The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Syrian President Bashar Assad is warning the U.S. of repercussions if it launches a military strike against him. "You should expect everything," Assad said in an interview, while denying that his troops used chemical weapons. "If you strike somewhere, you have to expect the repercussions somewhere else," he said.
In this frame grab from video provided by "CBS This Morning," Syrian President Bashar Assad responds to a question from journalist Charlie Rose during an interview in Damascus, Syria.
In London, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was unmoved by Assad's denial, saying he would be confident going into any courtroom with the evidence gathered by the United States that Syria's government used chemical weapons against its people.
"What does he offer?" Kerry asked of Assad. "Words that are contradicted by fact."
At the White House, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said, "It doesn't surprise us that someone who would kill thousands of his own people, including hundreds of children with poison gas, would also lie about it."
As the administration stokes its arguments for a limited military strike, President Barack Obama plans an intense round of TV interviews Monday evening and Kerry is returning to Washington from his trip seeking international support. The United States, citing intelligence reports, says the lethal nerve agent sarin was used in an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus, and that 1,429 people died, including 426 children.
Obama administration officials plan more classified briefings on Capitol Hill. And White House national security adviser Susan Rice is scheduled for a Washington think tank speech timed to the public relations blitz aimed at assuring Americans the administration isn't contemplating another Iraq-Afghanistan style commitment.
The all-points push sets up a prime-time speech by Obama Tuesday night, with votes looming in the Senate as early as Wednesday and likely next week in the House.
In the interview aired Monday on "CBS This Morning," Assad said the evidence about chemical weapons that Kerry is presenting amounts to a "big lie" that resembles the case for war in Iraq that Secretary of State Colin Powell made to the United Nations over a decade ago.
Assad also suggested the rebels fighting his government might be responsible for the alleged gas attack in the Damascus suburbs.
Asked whether he was making a threat of direct military retaliation to any U.S. attack, Assad was vague, saying at one point, "I am not fortune teller to tell you what's going to happen."
"It's not only the government (that's) the only player in this region," he said. "You have different parties. You have different factions. You have different ideology. You have everything in this region now. So you have to expect that."
At a news conference in London with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Kerry said that if Assad wanted to defuse the crisis, "he could turn every single bit of his chemical weapons over to the international community" within a week. But he said that Assad "isn't about to do it."
Kerry said the U.S. knows "that his regime gave orders to prepare for a chemical attack. We know they deployed forces," Kerry said.
He added: "So the evidence is powerful and the question for all of us is, what are we going to do about it. Turn our backs? Have a moment of silence?"
Obama plans interviews Monday evening with the network TV newscasts as well as CNN, Fox and PBS.
On Tuesday, he will meet with Senate Democrats about Syria, according to two Senate Democratic aides. The meeting at the Capitol would come just hours before Obama addresses the nation in a prime-time speech on Syria from the White House.
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