Syria says chemical weapons talk is intervention excuse
Beirut, December 6, 2012
Syria's deputy foreign minister said on Thursday he feared Western countries were voicing concerns over his country's possible use of chemical weapons to lay the ground for intervention, despite Damascus saying it would not use them.
Faisal Maqdad said media reports citing US and European intelligence officials as saying Syria was preparing its chemical weapons for possible use were "theatre", in an interview with the Lebanese news channel Al Manar.
Syria has been mired in bloodshed since the start of a 20-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule with his army turning the full force of its artillery and fighter jets against comparatively lightly armed rebels.
Opposition forces and Western intelligence officials have said that recent rebel advances - including around the capital Damascus - may provoke Assad into using chemical weapons, which he is widely believed to possess.
"Syria stresses again, for a tenth and a hundredth time, if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide," Maqdad said in the interview.
"In the event that (foreign powers) actually considered an aggression, they should consider the consequences. I believe the cost will be high ... They need to understand that they are putting the entire region and its environs to danger if they tried to commit such a folly."
Syria straddles the fault lines of several ethnic and regional conflicts in the Middle East, from Turkey's fight with the Kurds on Syria's northern border, to sectarian tensions in Iraq in the east. It is also still formally at war with Israel, its neighbour.
Assad blames the West and its Gulf Arab allies, who have thrown their weight behind the opposition, for the unrest in Syria that rebel sources say has killed 40,000 people. His government argues that the uprising is led by "terrorists" guided from abroad.
If the rebels could not overthrow Assad he said the West might "resort to radical solutions".
Syria refuses to acknowledge it possesses chemical arms but has repeatedly said it would not use such weapons on its own people, though it might against foreign attackers. Israel and NATO countries say Syria has stocks of various chemical warfare agents at four sites.
The United States and NATO, which has agreed to send Patriot missiles to the Turkish border with Syria, have issued strong warnings to Syria against the use of chemical warfare.
Washington has said that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" for the United States.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the United States was worried an "increasingly desperate" Assad could resort to the use of chemical weapons against rebels, or lose control of them "to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria".
Maqdad said that Syria's foes might give "terrorists" chemical weapons and then blame use of them on Damascus.
He said that Assad would continue to fight the opposition despite foreign pressure: "We will not concern ourselves with this psychological war and we will continue to fight terrorism." – Reuters