Russia's Putin is 'protecting' the Syrian regime, says Obama

Last Updated 04 May 2018, 11:43 IST

US President Barack Obama today said America and Russia have different attitude towards the Assad regime but acknowledged that the Moscow-brokered deal offers a chance to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is "protecting" the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Obama said.

"I don't think that Putin has the same values that we do. And I think obviously by protecting Assad he has a different attitude about the Assad regime," Obama told the ABC news in an interview.

"But what I've also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos, we both have an interest in preventing terrorism. The situation in Syria right now is untenable," he said.

"As long as Assad's in power, there is going to be some sort of conflict there, and that we should work together to try to find a way in which the interests of all the parties inside of Syria, the Alawites, the Sunnis, the Christians, that everybody is represented and that there is a way of bringing the temperature down so that horrible things that are happening inside the country are continuing to happen," Obama said.

"I think there's a way for Putin, despite me and him having a whole lot of differences, to play an important role in that. So I welcome him being involved. I welcome him saying, 'I will take responsibility for pushing my client, the Assad regime, to deal with these chemical weapons'."

"Because I think that if, in fact not only Russia gets involved, but if potentially Iran gets involved as well in recognising that what's happening there is a train wreck that hurts not just Syrians but destabilising the entire region," he said in response to a question.

The US blames the Assad regime for a chemical weapon attack in the suburbs of Damascus that left over 1,400 people died.

Yesterday, US-Russia hammered out a deal in Geneva to bring Syria's chemical weapons under international control today.

Quoiting former US President Ronald Reagan, who said, "trust but verify," Obama said he thinks that's always been the experience of US presidents when we're interacting with first Soviet leaders and now Russian leaders.

"You know Putin and I have strong disagreements on a whole range of issues. But I can talk to him. We have worked together on important issues.

"The fact of the matter is, is that we couldn't be supplying all of our troops in Afghanistan if he weren't helping us in transporting those supplies through the northern borders of Afghanistan. So there are a whole range of areas where we currently work together. We've worked together on counterterrorism operations," Obama said.

"This is not the Cold War. This is not a contest between the US and Russia. I mean the fact of the matter is, is that if Russia wants to have some influence in Syria post-Assad, that doesn't hurt our interests," he said.

"I know that sometimes this gets framed or looked at through the lens of the US versus Russia. That's not what this is about. What this is about is how do we make sure that we don't have the worst weapons in the hands either of a murderous regime, or in the alternative, some elements of the opposition that are as opposed to the US as they are to Assad," Obama said.

Responding to questions on Syria, Obama said nobody around the world takes seriously the idea that the rebels perpetrated this attack.

"Now what is true is that there are radical elements in the opposition, including folks who are affiliated with al-Qaeda, who, if they got their hands on chemical weapons, would have no compunction using them in Syria or outside of Syria," he said.

"Part of the reason why we've been so concerned about this chemical weapons-- issue is because we don't want those folks getting chemical weapons, anymore than we want Assad to have chemical weapons. And so the best solution is for us to get them out of there," he said.

"But with respect to Putin, I have said consistently that where the interest of the US and Russia converge, we need to work together. I had talked to Putin a year ago saying to him the US and Russia should work together to deal with these chemical weapons stockpiles, and to work to try to bring about a political transition," he said.

Obama said the Russians are protecting the Syrians.

"The inspectors weren't even in yet. And as a consequence of the pressure that we've applied over the last couple of weeks, we have for the first time acknowledging that it has chemical weapons, agreeing to join the convention that prohibits the use of chemical weapons. And the Russians, they're primary sponsors, saying that they will push Syria to get all of their chemical weapons out," he said.

"The distance that we've travelled over these couple of weeks is remarkable. And my position, and the United States' position, has been consistent throughout. Which is that the underlying civil conflict in Syria is terrible.

I believe that because of Assad's actions, his response to peaceful protests, we've created a civil war in Syria that has led to 100,000 people being killed and 6 million people being displaced," he said.

"What I've also said is that the United States can't get in the middle of somebody else's civil war. We're not going to put troops on the ground. We can't enforce militarily a settlement there. What we can do is make sure that the worst weapons, the indiscriminate weapons that don't distinguish between a soldier and an infant, are not used," Obama said.

"If we get that accomplished, then we may also have a foundation to begin what has to be an international process in which Assad's sponsors, primarily Iran and Russia, recognise that this is terrible for the Syrian people, and they are willing to come in a serious way to arrive at some sort of political settlement that would deal with the underlying terrible conflict that's taking place," said Obama.

(Published 15 September 2013, 17:37 IST)

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