Assad Denies Chemical Weapons Use In 'Figaro' Interview

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad gave a rare interview to a western news outlet this week. He told the French newspaper Le Figaro that the U.S. and France have yet to "put forward a single proof" that his regime was behind the chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital. Melissa Block talks with Georges Malbrunot, Middle East reporter for Le Figaro, who conducted the interview in Damascus.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's rare for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give interviews to Western media, but this week he spoke to the French newspaper, Le Figaro, in Damascus. Assad repeated his denial that his government used chemical weapons. He wouldn't even confirm that his regime has chemical weapons and he blamed terrorists for spreading lies. The interview was conducted by Le Figaro's Middle East correspondent Georges Malbrunot who told me to his surprise the interview did not take place at the presidential palace.

GEORGES MALBRUNOT: We were in a house in a forest on a hill nearby the presidential palace. That house, it was not surrounded by huge security, that's the main important thing, and I think they're wanting to show the world that he's not living in a bunker like Saddam Hussein or Moammar Gadhafi.

BLOCK: So you're saying he was not surrounded by a whole lot of security.

MALBRUNOT: Absolutely not. I could've have bring a pistol and nobody would have — I don't know, but they didn't check my body. They didn't check anything.

BLOCK: No magnetometer, no sweep, nothing like that.

MALBRUNOT: No, no. I didn't pass through any such security.

BLOCK: Your interview was on Monday so it was very soon after President Obama said he was going to go to Congress for approval of any military strikes. What did Assad say about that and about the United States' role?

MALBRUNOT: I asked him about that and he said Barack Obama is a weak leader because he is facing a lot of pressures and if he was a strong leader, strong leaders are leaders who are telling the truth saying that we are to go back to United Nations and not to take a unilateral decision (unintelligible).

I did not find him very convincing on this issue.

BLOCK: You also asked him about the amount of territory that he does not control in Syria. What did he tell you about that?

MALBRUNOT: He told me an interesting thing I heard before in Syria that, in fact, they are not really interested to regain all the territories that are lost and — but he told me that there's no territory where the army was expelled where they can't come back. I told him, what do you suggest? What do you have as planned to (unintelligible) the crisis? Tell us your ideas, you know, to stop the bloodshed.

I asked him, would you be ready to invite all the opposition members in Damascus, to provide them security guarantee and you sit around the table and you talk? Said, this proposal, at the beginning, could have been done, but now we are facing a terrorist. According to him, 80 or 90 percent of the rebels belong to al-Qaida so no way to negotiate, talk to them.

We have to liquidate these terrorists so there's no political settlement for him, except to crush the opposition, which is a dark scenario.

BLOCK: You asked him, I believe, whether he would be willing to fight to the death.

MALBRUNOT: Yes. Yes. He told me, like the regular Syrian, there's no option and we are all in the same boat and I will fight until we win. He wants to fight until he wins.

BLOCK: Georges Malbrunot, thanks very much for talking with us.

MALBRUNOT: Thank you, bye-bye.

BLOCK: Georges Malbrunot is Middle East correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro. We were talking about his interview this week with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

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