c.2013 New York Times News Service
President Bashar Assad of Syria, who has denied that his government attacked civilians with chemical weapons on Aug. 21, reiterated that denial to the American people Sunday morning via the television interviewer Charlie Rose.
“He denied that he had anything to do with the attack,” Rose said on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” hours after interviewing Assad at the presidential palace in Damascus. “He denied that he knew, in fact, that there was a chemical attack, notwithstanding what has been said and notwithstanding the videotape. He said there’s not evidence yet to make a conclusive judgment.”
No clips from Rose’s interview were released Sunday. The interview, which was arranged in the last few days amid a congressional debate about whether to authorize a limited military strike against Syria, will be broadcast on Monday by CBS and PBS, the same day that President Barack Obama is scheduled to make his case for the strikes in interviews with anchors for six American networks.
CBS described Sunday’s interview with Assad as his first with an American television network since December 2011, about nine months into the Syrian uprising and civil war, when he spoke with Barbara Walters of ABC. By agreeing to speak to Rose, Assad all but assured that his remarks would receive widespread attention from the American news media.
Rose, who was unavailable for interviews on Sunday because he was traveling back to the United States, said on “Face the Nation” that he read Assad a paragraph of a front-page New York Times article about Syria’s large stockpile of chemical weapons, and that Assad responded, “I can’t confirm or deny that we have chemical weapons.”
Assad also “had a message to the American people,” Rose said: “That it had not been a good experience for them to get involved in the Middle East, in wars and conflicts in the Middle East; that the result had not been good, and that they should not get involved.”
Rose previously interviewed Assad in 2006 for “The Charlie Rose Show,” which is broadcast on PBS stations. He and many other Western journalists have been lobbying Assad for an interview since the Syrian uprising started in early 2011.
“Charlie has been working on this for a long time,” said David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, who confirmed that Sunday’s interview “came through only this week.”
Rose drove to Damascus after flying into neighboring Lebanon. In a sign of the significance of the interview, he was accompanied by Jeffrey Fager, the chairman of CBS News and the top producer of “60 Minutes.”
“It’s not normal to send the chairman to produce an interview. It’s also not normal to have an interview like this at a time like this,” Rhodes said.
Portions of the interview will be shown on CBS’ morning and evening newscasts on Monday, Rhodes said. Then the interview will be shown in its entirety in prime time at 9 p.m. Monday.