Syrian President Bashar Assad yesterday denied making a decision to use chemical weapons against his own people and said there was no conclusive evidence about who is to blame for the August 21 attack.
Mr Assad said that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s statements reminded him of “the big lie” that former secretary of state Colin Powell gave the United Nations about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
The Syrian president also said the majority of US citizens “don’t want a war anywhere, not only against Syria,” before suggesting Washington’s credibility was “at an all-time low.”
But even before the interview was released, the White House criticised it.
“It doesn’t surprise us that someone who would kill thousands of his own people, including hundreds of children with poison gas, would also lie about it,” spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan blustered.
The White House has admitted it has no “irrefutable” evidence of Mr Assad’s involvement in the August attack, but has claimed that a “strong common-sense test irrespective of the intelligence” suggested that his government was responsible.
Meanwhile Russia picked up on a statement from Mr Kerry in London where he said that a military strike could be prevented if Syria gave its chemical weapons over to international control — although he he felt that such a handover was unlikely.
However, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov recommended to Damascus that such a move would be a sensible way of avoiding military intervention.
Elsewhere President Barack Obama prepared his final public arguments to Congress. Demonstrating how much of an uphill struggle he is facing to convince even his own US citizens, the president took the rare step of scheduling six network interviews before addressing a sceptical Congress later today.
Congress is set to have its first votes authorising limited strikes into Syria as early as tomorrow. Almost half of the 433 members in the House of Representatives and a third of the 100-member Senate remain undecided, according to an Associated Press survey.
And polls show that most US citizens are weary of war after more than a decade of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq.