Syrian President Bashar Assad has declared that he will not get rid of any weapons of mass destruction his country may possess unless Israel does the same.
Mr Assad's comments come in the wake of the decision last month by Libya's Colonel Gaddafi to disarm after negotiations with the US and UK. The statements by Mr Assad were being viewed last night as the closest he has come to admitting Syria may have chemical and biological capability. In defending the right of Syria to arm, he pointed to Israel's recent attack on alleged Palestinian bases in Syria and the occupation of the Golan Heights as reason that Syria needed a deterrent.
"We are a country which is [partly] occupied and from time to time we are exposed to Israeli aggression," Mr Assad told The Daily Telegraph in an interview.
"It is natural for us to look for means to defend ourselves. It is not difficult to get most of these weapons anywhere in the world and they can be obtained at any time."
Mr Assad called on the international community to support a proposal Syria presented to the United Nations last year for removing all WMD from the Middle East, including Israel's nuclear stockpile. "Unless this applies to all countries, we are wasting our time," he said. But Mr Assad expressed interest in running joint patrols with America along the Syria-Iraq border to prevent the passage of arms.
He also claimed to have stopped the activities of Palestinian extremists in Syria. But he said of Palestinian suicide bombers that the attacks were a "reality we cannot control" and he blamed such attacks on "the Israeli killings, the Israeli occupations".
"More killings by Israel will have a reaction," he said. ". . . Only Israel when it stops killing won't have any more killing."
Mr Assad said of WMD in the region that things were: "moving from bad to worse. Now there are much greater risks of war than ever before".
"If you don't use double standards, why not support us? Why not raise it with the Israelis?"
Mr Assad said of the US occupation of Iraq: "The US does not have to be in Iraq to threaten Syria. They are everywhere in this world, that doesn't change anything."
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd