On Sunday’s “This Week” on ABC, President Barack Obama downplayed the antagonistic elements in his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, declaring that the two nations cooperate on counterterrorist measures and “this is not the Cold War.”
Obama first told “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos that Putin’s insistence that the rebels may have been behind the use of chemical weapons in Syria wasn’t a serious argument, adding that it was in both nations’ best interests to deal with those chemical weapons.
“What I said is, 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-Qaida, who, if they got their hands on chemical weapons, would have no compunction using them in Syria or outside of Syria,” Obama said. “And 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, any more than we want Assad to have chemical weapons. And so the best solution is for us to get them out of there. But with respect to Mr. Putin, I have said consistently that where the interest of the United States and Russia converge, we need to work together. And I had talked to Mr. Putin a year ago saying to him the United States and Russia should work together to deal with these chemical weapons stockpiles, and to work to try to bring about a political transition inside of Syria.”
As far as his overall relationship with Putin, Obama downplayed the hostilities, pointing out that Russia is aiding U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and that both countries are working together against terrorism.
“Ronald Reagan said, ‘trust but verify,’” Obama said. “And I think that that’s always been the experience of U.S. presidents when we’re interacting with first, Soviet leaders, and now Russian leaders. You know, Mr. 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,” he continued. “And so you know, this is not the Cold War. This is not a contest between the United States 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. I know that sometimes this gets framed or looked at through the lens of the U.S. 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 United States as they are to Assad.”