Assad Dismisses Claims Government Used Chlorine on Syrians as 'Propaganda'

/ Source: NBC News

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview that aired Sunday, dismissed claims his regime is using chlorine gas and barrel bombs on the Syrian people as "propaganda."

As Syria's civil war entered its fifth year earlier this month, more than 200,000 people had been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Another 3.9 million people have fled the country, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

But Assad said he only has Syrians' best interest in mind, and he denied that his government has contributed as greatly to the casualties as is reported. "We cannot win the heart and minds of the Syrians while we are killing Syrians. We cannot sustain four years in that position as a government," Assad said in an interview that aired on CBS News' "60 Minutes" Sunday night.

Assad that reports of chlorine gas and barrel bombs used by the government are "part of the malicious propaganda against Syria ... because, as you know, in the media when it bleeds it leads."

When asked why no one has been able to inspect whether the weapons have been used, Assad said: "We always ask a delegation — impartial delegation — to come and investigate." He didn't elaborate.

Assad said he is more worried about garnering support from his people and doesn't "care" about what the West thinks "as long as I have the public support of the Syrian people."

"That's my legitimacy Legitimacy comes from the inside," he said.

Assad said he counts Syria's allies as Iran and Russia because he thinks their motivation is stabilizing the region, while he said, the U.S. and the West are looking for "followers."

But Assad said he was optimistic about opening a dialogue with the U.S. after Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month that "we have to negotiate in the end" to resolve the conflict in Syria.

"When you start the dialogue, things will be better," Assad said. When asked what a dialogue would look like with a country who thinks he shouldn't be in power, he said his presidency wouldn't be part of the conversation.

"We have Syrian citizens who can decide this. No one else. Whether they want to talk about it or not. This is not something we're going to discuss with anyone," Assad said.

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