Bashar al-Assad's recent media blitz took a surprising turn on Tuesday morning when the Syrian president's office announced he'd sat down for a "television dialogue" with his old pal Dennis Kucinich, the former House member turned Fox News contributor. When the network confirmed that the interview would air this evening, it noted that reporter Greg Palkot, "a veteran of Middle East coverage" sat in with Kucinich, who "was not there in the capacity of a journalist nor was he representing Fox News in that role." It's unclear how Kucinich's questions differed from those of a journalist, but the presence of his American friend did seem to inspire Assad to double down on his pandering to the American people. U.S. audiences may be surprised to learn that there is no civil war in Syria, and the government is merely fighting foreign Jihadists who gassed their own people.
Kucinich kicked off the interview by asking Assad to confirm that his government has chemical weapons. "That’s why we joined the international agreement, in order to get rid of them," he replied. "It’s not secret anymore." Assad said Syria is fully committed to the terms of the treaty, but warned that the process of destroying the weapons will cost about a billion dollars, is "very detrimental to the environment," and "needs a year, maybe a little bit less or a little bit more." But if the U.S. wants to oversee their destruction, by all means. "If the American administration is ready to pay this money and to take responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don’t they do it?" said Assad.
When confronted with the U.N. report released this week that confirmed rockets filled with sarin gas were used on Aug. 21, the president said he hadn't had a chance to look at it. While many facts in the report suggest only Assad's regime could have carried out the attack, he claimed again that the rebels were responsible. "The Sarin gas is called kitchen gas, do you know why?" he said. "Because anyone can make Sarin in his house." Though, Assad did appear to slip when declaring that "Syria never obeyed any threat" from the U.S. "The American threat wasn’t about handing over the chemical arsenal, it was about attacking so as not to use it again," he said.
Assad is reportedly working with a team of media advisers who helped shaped his image in the west as a reformer, and their influence was apparent throughout the interview. Assad claimed that "80 to 90 percent of the rebels or terrorists on the ground are Al Qaeda and their offshoots," and his government is just defending Syrians from foreign insurgents flooding into the country. "What we have is not a civil war; what we have is a war, but it’s a new kind of war," he said.
Assad also took some subtle shots at President Obama, urging him to "Listen to your people; follow the common sense of your people." He added, "we never looked at the American people as enemy," but relations between the two countries "depends on the credibility of the administration [currently in the White House]." Of course, Assad hopes that we'll be able to patch things up some day. "We always like to have good relations with every country in the world," he said, "and first of all the United States because it is the greatest country in the world."