BERLIN (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has warned Europe in a German newspaper interview that it will "pay the price" if it follows Washington's lead and delivers arms to rebel forces, saying such a move would spread terrorism to the continent.
"If the Europeans deliver weapons, the backyard of Europe will become terrorist and Europe will pay the price for it," he said in an interview published on Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's website on Monday.
In his first comments since the United States announced on Thursday that it would be supplying military aid to rebels fighting for his overthrow, Assad warned that delivering arms would result in the export of "terrorism" to Europe.
"Terrorists will gain experience in combat and return with extremist ideologies," he said.
"For Europe there is no alternative to cooperating with the Syrian state, even if Europe doesn't like it."
Asked about claims by the French, British and U.S. governments that Syria has used chemical weapons, the newspaper quoted Assad as saying: "If Paris, London and Washington had even one piece of evidence for their claims, they would have shown this to the world."
Last week the U.S. said 100 to 150 people had died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria but Assad said it would be illogical to use chemical weapons to kill this number of people as conventional weapons could also achieve that.
He said: "We have not said that we possess chemical weapons, nor have we said that we do not possess them."
Asked why he refused to allow United Nations inspectors into the country, he said this would allow them to uncover Syrian security secrets that had nothing to do with its arsenal.
"We are a state, we have our army and we have our secrets. We won't allow anyone to get an insight into these -- not the UN, not France, not Great Britain and not others."
He said the government had been open to dialogue from day one and had not changed its position on this but Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France and Great Britain were against dialogue.
He said Syria was, however, prepared to negotiate with the United States, France and Great Britain as well as "their tools - Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia".
Assad signaled he had no intention of stepping down: "Of course you can't desert your country during a crisis ... That would be high treason." He added that it would be a different matter if the people decided he should lose his office.
"The president is not the problem. Other countries want the president to resign to make way for a mercenary chosen by these countries."
(Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Noah Barkin and Michael Roddy)