Syrian President Bashar Assad
has denied responsibility for the killing of thousands of anti-government protesters. In an interview with ABC News, to be aired Wednesday, Assad said he does not control the forces implementing his country's brutal crackdown.
During the interview, the beleaguered Syrian
ruler said that although he is president he does not “own the country, so they're not my forces.”
In his first interview with an American news outlet since the violent crackdown began in March, Assad said there was “a big difference” between having “a policy to crack down and having mistakes committed by some officials.”
ABC's Barbara Walters interviews Bashar Assad
In the heavily-promoted interview with Barbara Walters, Assad said the mounting international effort to impose sanctions on Syria did not worry him, and that any violence by government forces was the result of individual mistakes, not government policy.
"We don't kill our people ... no government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person," ABC quoted Assad as saying.
The Syrian leader added: "Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa." He said the dead have included 1,100 soldiers and police, ABC said.
Assad conceded that some members of his armed forces went too far, but said they were punished for their actions.
"Every 'brute reaction' was by an individual, not an institution, that's what you have to know," Assad told Walters.
"There was no command to kill or be brutal," he said.
Assad repeated that he was introducing reforms and elections, but said the changes could not be rushed.
"We never said we are a democratic country...we are moving forward in reforms, especially in the last nine months ... It takes a long time, it takes a lot of maturity to be a full fledged democracy," he said.
He said the mounting international effort to impose sanctions on Syria would have little effect.
"We've been under sanctions for the last 30, 35 years. It's not something new," Assad said. "We're not isolated. You have people coming and going, you have trade, you have everything," he said.
Asked if regretted the violence that has beset his country, Assad said he did his best to "protect the people."
"I cannot feel guilty when you do your best. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost. But you don't feel guilty when you don't kill people. So it's not about guilty," he said.
The interview may be part of Syria's attempt to take some of the international pressure off the regime in Damascus.
On Monday Syria announced that it has accepted
the Arab League's demand that it allow observers into the country in a bid to end the violence that has plagued the country for more than eight months. The initiative may soften the sanctions imposed by the Arab League against Syria.
The announcement came less than a day after Damascus reported that the Syrian army had conducted a drill
over the weekend during which it test-fired at least one Scud-B missile. The exercise was seen as a message to the world, including Syria's neighbors, that its army remains fully functional and is able to cope with any threat.
According to the UN, more than 4,000 people were killed in Syria since the civil uprising against Assad's regime began. The world body said the events
in Syria can now be considered "civil war."