Syrian President Bashar Assad warned the United States (US) would have "repercussions" for any military strike launched in response to a chemical weapons attack, while President Barack Obama prepared his final public arguments for such strikes before Congress holds its first vote on the issue this week.
Assad, in an interview with American journalist Charlie Rose, warned the US that his turbulent region is an "area where everything is on the brink of explosion. You should expect everything." He added, "You are going to pay the price if you are not wise with dealing with terrorists," he said.
Assad also denied that his troops used chemical weapons, and he said there is no conclusive evidence about who is to blame in the August 21 attack that the US says killed more than 1,400 people. The US, citing intelligence reports, says the lethal nerve agent sarin was used.
Parts of Sunday's interview in Damascus were broadcast yesterday morning on CBS. The full Assad interview was set to air at 0100 GMT on Rose's programme on PBS.
In London, US Secretary of State John Kerry was unmoved by Assad's denial, saying he would be confident going into any courtroom with the evidence gathered by the United States that Syria's government used chemical weapons against its people.
"What does he offer?" Kerry asked. "Words that are contradicted by fact."
Kerry said that if Assad wanted to defuse the crisis, "he could turn every single bit of his chemical weapons over to the international community" within a week. But he said that Assad "isn't about to do it."
The foreign minister of Russia, a key Syria ally, yesterday said Moscow would push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. Sergey Lavrov said if such a move would help avert a possible US strike on Syria, Russia would start work "immediately" to persuade Syria to relinquish control over its chemical arsenals.