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Bashar al-Assad says Syrian rebels may attack chemical weapons inspectors

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
September 24, 2013 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Sources: U.S., Russia disagree over how to determine if Syria is meeting its obligations
  • Some countries may ask rebels to attack international inspectors, al-Assad says
  • "We cannot know until the inspectors arrive in Syria," he tells China's CCTV
  • The U.S.-Russian plan for Syria's chemical disarmament calls for inspections soon

(CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has suggested that some outside governments may urge rebels to attack international inspectors sent into war-fractured country to secure its arsenal of chemical weapons.

"There might be countries that might ask the terrorists to attack the inspectors to prevent them from doing their job, and blame the Syrian government," he said in an interview aired Sunday by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

"At this point, this remains just a possibility and we cannot know until the inspectors arrive in Syria," al-Assad said.

Syria submitted an initial declaration to the world's chemical weapons watchdog last week outlining its inventory of the munitions. The move was part of a deal forged earlier this month by the United States and Russia to begin Syria's chemical disarmament.

Photos: The omnipresence of Bashar al-Assad in Syria

The plan faces several potential roadblocks.

For starters, there is disagreement between Washington and Moscow about how to determine whether Syria is failing to meet its disarmament obligations, according to two sources with knowledge of talks at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The United States wants the OPCW's executive council to decide if Syria is in breach -- in which case a two-thirds majority of member states can make a decision, one source said.

The Russians, however, want the determination to be made by the the U.N. Security Council -- where Russia has veto power.

Syria has agreed to a Russian-U.S. timeline for the removal of its chemical weapons, but the plan has to be sanctioned as a U.N. resolution.

Diplomats have said the Security Council can't pass a resolution without the OPCW first agreeing on how it would be implemented.

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The plan calls for international inspectors in position to secure that arsenal no later than November. Veteran weapons inspectors have said securing and destroying the Syrian stockpile could take huge numbers of people, including hundreds of inspectors and thousands of troops to provide security.

Al-Assad noted that the plan requires his government to ensure the safety of the inspectors.

He said the weapons stockpile is secure, despite the civil war raging in Syria.

"Chemical weapons are safely stored to prevent terrorists or groups from other countries from taking them over," al-Assad told CCTV.

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'Large quantities'

Asked if it was true that there are more than 1,000 tons of chemical weapons in Syria, he said, "Syria has been producing these weapons for decades, and it is quite natural that there are large quantities of them.

"We are in a state of war, and we have territories that have been occupied for over 40 years," he continued. "But at any event, the Syrian army was geared toward fighting with conventional weapons."

The United States and other Western nations blame al-Assad's regime for an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that U.S. officials estimate killed 1,400 people.

Russia and Syria say they think rebels used the weapons.

Citing international norms against the use of chemical weapons, U.S. President Barack Obama called for authorization from Congress to use military force in Syria.

As the United States threatened force to degrade Assad's ability to carry out chemical weapons attacks, a diplomatic opportunity arose between Russia and the United States to put Syria's stockpile under international control.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hammered out the deal in Geneva, and Syria agreed to it.

Syrian chemical weapons list more complete than anticipated

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, Ali Younes and Brian Walker contributed to this report.

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