New Interview With Assad Sends Mixed Messages

According to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it's going to take quite some time for Syria to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons. “You have to ask the experts what they mean by quickly,” Assad said in a new interview with Fox News, (of all networks). “It has a certain schedule. It needs a year, or maybe a little bit more."

It won't be cheap either: "It needs about one billion,” he said, pointing to difficulties in implementation. “It's a very complicated operation technically.”

“It is very detrimental to the environment,” Assad elaborated. “If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don't they do it?"

Not exactly the words of someone overjoyed to cooperate. Still, Assad said he is ready to destroy his chemical arsenal, and is "committed to the full requirements of this agreement." (Russia has said its factories are capable of disposing of the weapons, although so far there is no deal to destroy Syrian chemical weapons located on Russian soil.)

While he's ready to destroy the chemical weapons, Assad still vehemently denies that his government was responsible for the August 21 attack that killed more than a thousand in his country. “We didn't use any chemical weapons,” he said, calling the attack “despicable” and “a crime.”

The U.S. and its allies are not convinced. A UN investigation into the affair did not come down on either side, although it did confirm U.S. intelligence about the type of rocket used (evidence which points to the Assad regime being the source of the attack).

In Syria, the violence continues. Earlier today a bomb hit a bus near the central Syrian village of Jbourin, reportedly killing 19 and wounding four. Near the Turkish border, gunmen linked to al-Qaeda captured the town of Azaz from western-backed rebels. This latter clash is one of the biggest between rebel factions, and points to increasing conflict within the opposition to Assad.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator from Arizona John McCain has taken aim at the Russian leadership in a not-exactly-polite essay titled, “Russians Deserve Better Than Putin.” The essay came as a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's September 11 op-ed in the New York Times, and was addressed to the Russian people (rather than to Putin himself). In it, McCain goes to great lengths to stress that he is not 'anti-Russian.' In fact, McCain says he is “pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today.”

He goes on to excoriate Putin and his administration:

They punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They harass, threaten, and banish organizations that defend your right to self-governance. To perpetuate their power they foster rampant corruption in your courts and your economy and terrorize and even assassinate journalists who try to expose their corruption. They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn. They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin’s rule.

No response from Putin so far, and, according to Putin's spokesperson Dmitri S. Peskov, none will be forthcoming. “Engaging in any debates would not make sense,” Peskov said. “As far as the question of what Russians deserve is concerned, they are able to answer this question on their own, and they do so when elections are held.”

That's open to debate. In any case, it remains to be seen whether McCain's opinion will have any effect on U.S.-Russian negotiations over Syria.