WASHINGTON - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied ordering his troops to crack down on thousands of peaceful protesters and said "only a crazy person" would target his own people, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
"We don't kill our people ... No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person," ABC's website quoted Assad on Wednesday, December 7, as saying in a recorded interview.
"Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa."
Though denying ordering the killing himself, the Syrian President conceded that some members of his armed forces had gone too far, but said they had been punished.
"Every 'brute reaction' was by an individual, not an institution, that's what you have to know," he told ABC's Barbara Walters.
"There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials," he said.
"There was no command to kill or be brutal."
Assad added that security forces belonged to "the government" and not him personally.
"I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country. So they are not my forces," he said.
Asked if he regretted the violence that has beset his country, he said he had done his best to "protect the people."
He also dismissed the death toll, saying the UN was not a credible source of information.
"Who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?"
"Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa," Assad said in English, giving a figure of 1,100 dead soldiers and police.
Syrian activists say around a quarter of the more than 4,500 deaths they have recorded in nine months of protest have been among the security forces.
Peaceful protests against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, were met with massive force as soon as they began in March.
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 also ridiculed the idea of international sanctions, saying Syria could not be isolated.
"We've been under sanctions for the last 30, 35 years. It's not something new ...We're not isolated," Assad said.
Yet, the Assad remarks were rejected by the White House.
"It is just not credible," White House spokesman Jay Carney said, Reuters reported.
"The world has witnessed what has happened in Syria," Carney said.
The United States and many, many other nations around the world who have come together to condemn the atrocious violence in Syria perpetrated by the Assad regime know exactly what's happening and who is responsible, he added.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner dared Assad to back up his assertions by letting in international observers and media, saying that there was a "clear campaign against peaceful protesters, AFP reported.
"It either says that he's completely lost any power that he had within Syria, that he's simply a tool or that he's completely disconnected with reality," Toner told reporters Wednesday.
"It's either disconnection, disregard or, as he said, crazy. I don't know," Toner said.
Syria had come under growing international pressure, with Arab nations and Turkey joining Western powers in pursuing sanctions against Assad.
Protesting the killing, the Arab League has threatened to impose sanctions on Syria unless armed forces are verifiably withdrawn from towns and cities and a political dialogue is opened with opposition representatives.
Major Western powers as well as neighbors Turkey and Jordan are calling on Assad to step down.
Turkey, formerly a key Syria ally, imposed a 30 percent duty on imports from Syria on Wednesday in retaliation for a similar tax imposed on Turkish goods.