Middle East

Syria conflict: Assad hints at Germany mediation role

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Photo: 4 October 2013
Image caption President Assad denies claims his forces have used chemical weapons

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has raised the possibility of Germany acting as a mediator to try to end his country's 30-month-long civil war.

Speaking to Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, Mr Assad said he "would be delighted if envoys came from Germany".

But he stressed that Damascus would not negotiate with rebels unless they laid down their weapons.

Mr Assad again denied claims that his troops had used chemical weapons, blaming the rebels instead.

In the interview to be published on Monday, Mr Assad said that US President Barack Obama had "not even a whisper of proof" that Damascus had used chemical weapons.

"He has nothing to offer other than lies."

He contrasted Washington's stance with that of Moscow, describing the Russians as "true friends".

'More questions'

The interview comes just days after a team given the job of eliminating Syria's chemical weapons said it had made "encouraging initial progress" after talks with government officials.

UN-backed experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Syrian documents handed over last Wednesday "looked promising".

The team said analysis of technical diagrams would be necessary and "more questions remain to be answered".

Onsite inspections and arms disabling are scheduled to start next week.

Concerted international action to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons was agreed by the UN Security Council last month.

Its resolution was based on an earlier deal reached by the United States and Russia in Geneva.

The US had threatened military action to punish the Syrian government over a nerve agent attack in Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August.

The Americans said more than 1,400 people were killed. Russia and Syria believe rebel groups were responsible for the attack.

Syria's chemical weapons arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of the nerve gas sarin, the blister agent sulphur mustard and other banned chemicals stored at dozens of sites.