Assad: One year, $1.25b needed to destroy chem arms

Assad: One year, $1.25b needed to destroy chem arms
Rebel fighters duck as they run behind a barricade to avoid being fired at by Syrian regime forces in the Old City's front line in Aleppo on September 18, 2013.

WASHINGTON - Defiant strongman Bashar Al-Assad promised Wednesday he would surrender Syria's chemical weapons but warned it would take at least a year to do so and cost one billion US dollars (S$1.25 billion).

His latest appearance came as UN envoys debated a draft resolution that would enshrine a joint US-Russian plan to secure and neutralize his banned weapons in international law.

In a confident interview with US network Fox News, Assad insisted that Syria was not gripped by civil war but was the victim of infiltration by foreign-backed Al-Qaeda fighters.

He insisted that his forces had not been behind an August 21 gas attack on the Damascus suburbs that left hundreds of civilians dead, but vowed nevertheless to hand over his deadly arsenal.

It was Assad's second interview this month with US television, and one of a series of meetings with Western journalists to counter mounting political pressure from Western capitals.

After last month's barrage of sarin-loaded rockets, which Western capitals say was clearly launched by the regime, US President Barack Obama called for US-led punitive military strikes.

But - with US lawmakers and the Western public not sold on the virtues of another Middle East military adventure - Assad's ally Russia seized the opportunity to propose a diplomatic solution.

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