Gen. Salim Idris, commander of the Free Syrian Army rebel group, told PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill on Monday that he supports the U.S.-Russian brokered deal to eliminates Syria’s chemical weapons, but warned that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would still be able to freely exterminate his own people using conventional weapons.
Meanwhile, a U.N. report made public Monday confirmed the use of the deadly sarin gas near Damascus on Aug. 21, but didn’t say whether it was the regime or rebels who used it. (Read the full 38-page report.)
Here is the full interview transcript:
GWEN IFILL: One group that criticized the U.S.-Russia agreement is the Free Syrian Army. They have been fighting the Assad government for more than two years. I spoke earlier today to rebel leader General Salim Idris. He connected with us via Skype from inside Syria.
General, thank you for joining us.
I want to start by asking you for you reaction to this new U.S.-Russia-brokered deal that calls for the seizure and destruction of chemical weapons.
GEN. SALIM IDRIS, Free Syrian Army: Everything is very clear.
There is a war crime. There is a criminal regime. There is a murderer, a president. But other than — what is so-called Russian initiative, we think now that there is a very little chance for strikes.
What we can say, we, the Syrian people, on behalf of the Syrian people and on behalf of the revolutionary forces, that we are very frustrated because of what is going on and because the international community is not caring any more about the victims.
GWEN IFILL: President Obama said a few weeks ago that he would send arms to help you. Have you received those arms?
SALIM IDRIS: We are receiving now many kinds of support from our American friends.
But I can’t talk in media about — in detail about military support. You excuse me, please. You know this is very critical, and I can’t talk about it.
GWEN IFILL: General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he didn’t think the side the U.S. has chosen is necessarily ready to promote their interest and ours. That’s the way he put it.
Do you feel like you’re ready now?
SALIM IDRIS: We are ready in the Free Syrian Army for everything.
And we appreciate and welcome any kind of help from our friends in the United States. Under our command, we have very well-organized brigades and battalions who are working and fighting for freedom, for democracy.
GWEN IFILL: There’s some concern, however, in the U.S. that some of the arms, if they were provided to the rebels, would end up in the hand of jihadis. What do you say to that?
SALIM IDRIS: We are ready in the Free Syrian Army to give you any kind of guarantee that you need to assure you that any kinds of weapons, ammunitions that you are going to deliver to us will be in the right hands, the hands of my officers, of my soldiers, of my fighters, who are really moderate, who are fighting for democracy, for freedom, who are against extremism.
And all other jihadi or extremist groups will not have any access to these kinds of support. And now we don’t share information with them. We don’t support them. We don’t give them ammunition and weapons.
GWEN IFILL: As you know, General, the U.S. has said they will not endorse direct military intervention in this civil war. That’s what the president has said. And I know some of your friends in Congress disagreed with that, but that’s the last thing that we heard from the president and from Secretary Kerry.
So what do you want to U.S. to do, given that limitation?
SALIM IDRIS: They can organize a no-fly zone over the country, with the support of the Western countries, with the support of the Security Council, especially now.
I think it is more easy after the report, after the last report. In the last report, there is a crime. They can help us doing strikes using long-distance rockets, using air force, and not directly to send fighters on the ground.
GWEN IFILL: But, General, as you know, the U.N. report doesn’t actually say the government is behind these attacks, which leads open the possibility, as some say, that your folks are behind them.
SALIM IDRIS: Oh, my God. Please.
Do you think that the FSA has ability to launch chemical materials? We said many, many times we don’t have chemical materials. And, as you know, Secretary Kerry say it very clearly that our friends in the United States, they know where that rocket launched from and where they landed and who gave the order. We know who gave the order.
We have evidence. And the international community, all of our friends in the international community, they know that the regime used that chemical material.
GWEN IFILL: I have one final question for you, sir. Do you think, given the report from the U.N. and the deal that was cut in Geneva, that you are any closer today to your goal of overthrowing Assad?
SALIM IDRIS: I think we are very close to throw out Bashar and to collapse the regime. And I have the hope to collapse the regime tomorrow.
We hope that our friends in the United States help us and our friends in Europe, because the Russians and the Iranians are helping the criminal regime.
GWEN IFILL: General Salim Idris, thank you.
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