60 Minutes: Assad and Obama on Syria's civil war

In the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack, Charlie Rose speaks to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Scott Pelley interviews President Obama

During the last week, President Obama's plan for dealing with the Syrian nerve gas attack has changed radically.

The U.S. path toward air strikes has merged into a road of international cooperation to end the crisis. Under Russian pressure, President Bashar al-Assad has offered to surrender his chemical arsenal to international authorities, and the United States, while skeptical, will allow diplomacy an opportunity.

As the crisis has developed, CBS News has been able to talk with both leaders. We spoke with President Obama at the White House. But we'll begin with Charlie Rose's conversation with President Assad last Sunday in Damascus. The Syrian leader ranged from coy to combative. He denied ordering the gas attack and he would not confirm or deny even the existence of chemical weapons in Syria, but he did seem open to a diplomatic solution.

Charlie Rose: Would you give up chemical weapons if it would prevent the president from authorizing a strike? If that is a deal you would accept?

Bashar al-Assad: Again, you always imply that we have chemical weapons.

Charlie Rose: I have to, because that's the assumption of the president. That is his assumption and he's the one who will order the strike.

Bashar al-Assad: It's his problem if he has an assumption. But for us, in Syria, we have principles. We'll do anything to prevent the region from another crazy war. It's not only Syria. Because it will start in Syria--

Charlie Rose: You'll do anything to prevent the region from having--

Bashar al-Assad: The region.

Charlie Rose: --from having another crazy war?

Bashar al-Assad: Yes.

Charlie Rose: You recognize the consequences for you if there is a strike?

Bashar al-Assad: It's not about me. It's about the region.

Charlie Rose: Well, it's about your country. It's about your people--

Bashar al-Assad: Of course, of course. OK, OK. My country and me, we are part of this region.

Charlie Rose: Was there a moment, for you, as you saw the Arab Spring approaching Syria, that you said, "I've seen what happened in Libya, I've seen what happened in Tunisia, I've seen what happened in Egypt. It's not going to happen to Bashar al-Assad. I will fight anybody who tries to overthrow my regime with everything I have."

Bashar al-Assad: No, for one reason. Because the first question that I ask, "Do I have public support or not?" That the first question that I ask as president. If I don't have the public support, whether there's Arab-- what's-- the so-called Arab Spring, it's not spring anyway. But whether we have this or we don't, if you don't have public support, you have to quit. You have to leave. If you have public support in any circumstances, you have to stay. That's your mission. You have to help the people. You have to serve the people. So-- and I never said-- yeah, sorry.

Charlie Rose: No, go ahead. When you say "public support," people will point to Syria and they say, "A minority sect, Alawites, control a majority Sunni population. And it's a dictatorship and they do it because of force of their own instruments of power." That's how-- that's what you have. Not public support for this war against--

Bashar al-Assad: Now it's being--

Charlie Rose: --other Syrians.

Bashar al-Assad: Yeah, now you've been-- it's been two years and a half, OK? Two years and a half and Syria is still withstanding against the United States, the West, Saudi Arabia, the richest country in this area, including Turkey. And taking into consideration what your question implies, that even the big part, or the bigger part of the Syrian population against me, how can I withstand 'til today? I'm either superhuman or superman, which is not the case.

Charlie Rose: Or you have a powerful army.

Bashar al-Assad: The army made of the people. It cannot be made of robots. It's made of people, the pe--

Charlie Rose: Surely you're not suggesting that this army is not at your will and the will of your family.

Bashar al-Assad: How can you-- what do you mean by the will of the family?

Charlie Rose: The will of your family.

Bashar al-Assad: If-- if-- if-- if--

Charlie Rose: Your brother is in the military. The military has been at-- I mean, every observer of Syria believe that this is a country controlled by your family and controlled by the Alawites, who are your allies. That's the control.

Bashar al-Assad: If that situation is correct, what you're mentioning, we wouldn't have withstand for two years and a half. We would have disintegration of the army, disintegration of the whole institution in the states, we would have disintegration of Syria.

Charlie Rose: The president's gotten significant criticism because he has not supported the rebels more. So the president has not given enough support to the rebels in the view of many people. And there's criticism that when he made a recent decision to give support it has not gotten to the rebels, because they worry about the composition.

Bashar al-Assad: If the American administration wanted to support al Qaeda, go ahead. That what they ha-- we have to tell them. Go ahead and support al Qaeda. But don't talk about rebels and Free Syrian Army and so on. The majority of fighters now are al Qaeda. If you want to support them, you are supporting al Qaeda. You are creating havoc in the region, and if this region is not stable, the whole world cannot be stable.

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