Bashar al-Assad Coldly Asks: ‘What Red Line?’

Syrian President Bashar Assad leaves the Elysee Palace following his meeting with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2009. Assad says that Mideast peace will be the main issue in his talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy and that "France must act." (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
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Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
Sept. 9, 2013, 7:02 p.m.

It’s strange to watch a lead­er of a coun­try an­swer ques­tions for an Amer­ic­an audi­ence, know­ing that the United States is mulling over a de­cision to send rock­ets his way. What did Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad think he could get out of Monday night’s in­ter­view with Charlie Rose — a chance to warm Amer­ic­ans to his per­spect­ive, a chance to scare them away from con­flict in the coun­try with talk of re­tri­bu­tion? 

Dur­ing the in­ter­view, Rose, stoned-faced as ever, asked a per­son whom many con­sider to be a ruth­less dic­tat­or with the blood of a hun­dred thou­sand cit­izens on his hands, point blank: “Why do you have such a stock­pile of chem­ic­al weapons?”

For the re­cord, As­sad denied re­spons­ib­il­ity for the Aug. 21 chem­ic­al strike that re­portedly killed some 1,400 people. He wouldn’t com­ment on wheth­er Syr­ia had a stock­pile of chem­ic­al weapons. He said he “didn’t know” if chem­ic­al war­fare is com­par­able to a nuc­le­ar at­tack be­cause “we haven’t tried either (laugh).” He thinks those U.S. in­tel­li­gence re­ports that say he did, in­deed, try chem­ic­al weapons are “non­sense.” Of the Aug. 21 at­tack, here’s his ex­change with Rose:

BASHAR al-AS­SAD: We — we’re not in the area where the al — where the — where the al­leged chem­ic­al at­tack was happened, as it al­leged. We’re not sure that any­thing happened be­cause —

CHARLIE ROSE: Even at this date, you are not sure that chem­ic­al weapons, even though you have seen the video­tape, even though you’ve seen the bod­ies, even though —

AS­SAD: No, I have —

ROSE: — your own of­fi­cials have been there.

AS­SAD: I haven’t fin­ished. Our sol­diers in an­oth­er area were at­tacked chem­ic­ally. Our sol­diers. They went to the hos­pit­al — as cas­u­al­ties be­cause of chem­ic­al weapons. But in the area where they said the gov­ern­ment used chem­ic­al weapons, we only had video and we only have pic­tures and al­leg­a­tions. We’re not there. Our forces — our po­lice, our in­sti­tu­tions don’t ex­ist. How can you talk about what happened if you don’t have evid­ences?

But per­haps the scene-stop­per of the in­ter­view came when Rose asked As­sad what he thought about Obama’s red line, or the world’s red line, on chem­ic­al weapons. Without pause or af­fect, As­sad replied, “What red line?”

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