Syrian President Bashar Assad said that he would be open to a dialogue with the United States, but that it must be “based on mutual respect.”
In an interview with CBS News, the Syrian leader also rejected allegations that the Syrian army used barrel bombs or chlorine gas against militant-held areas, calling the accusations “malicious propaganda.”
“This is part of the malicious propaganda against Syria,” he said, adding the militants were behind the alleged chlorine attack.
“It’s not used as military gas. That’s very self-evident. Traditional arms is more important than chlorine, and if it was very effective, the terrorists would have used it on a larger scale,” he said. The government refers to its opponents as “terrorists.”
In the interview, President Assad addressed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statement that Washington must eventually talk with Damascus to help negotiate an end to Syria’s war.
In principle, Assad said, “every dialogue is a positive thing, and we are going to be open to any dialogue with anyone, including the United States.” He said there is no direct communication so far with Washington.
“I would say what we have in Syria so far is only a statement, nothing concrete yet, no facts, no new reality regarding the political approach of the United States toward our situation, our problem, our conflict in Syria,” Assad said.
In a separate interview with a group of Russian journalists, Assad lauded a Russian initiative to nurture talks between Syrian government representatives and the opposition in Moscow.
“In order for this dialogue to succeed, it should be purely Syrian,” Assad said, according to a transcript of the CBS interview published Friday by the SANA state news agency. “In other words, there shouldn’t be any outside influence on the participants in this dialogue.”