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September 15, 2013

Obama defends handling of Syria, says of Putin: "This is not the Cold War"

President Obama defended his administration's handling of the Syria crisis, saying the world is now in a "better position" and that he's more concerned with policy than style.

Obama's handling of the situation has come under fire from critics who say he's appeared indecisive and all over the map, but Obama in an interview on ABC's This Week said he's been consistent about wanting to punish the Syrian regime for the use of chemical weapons. 

"Folks here in Washington like to grade on style," Obama said. "So had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear they would have graded it well, even if it was a disastrous policy. We know that, ’cause that’s exactly how they graded the Iraq War until it ended up blowing up in our face."

He also said he can work with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- but that like everything with Russia, it needs to be verified. He said it's possible the two could bring about a resolution to Syria, though he said Putin doesn't have the "same values" as those in the U.S.

"I think there’s a way for Mr. Putin, despite me and him having a whole lot of differences, to play an important role," Obama said. "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.' "

Obama didn't entirely answer whether he could trust Putin or fears he's being played, instead quoting Ronald Reagan's "Trust but verify."

"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," Obama said. "You know Mr. Putin and I have strong disagreements on a whole range of issues. But I can talk to him."

He noted they had worked together on important issues, including Russia's help in supplying troops in Afghanistan through the norther borders of Afghanistan.

"This is not the Cold War," Obama said. "This is not a contest between the United States and Russia. If Russia wants to have some influence in Syria post-Assad, that doesn’t hurt our interests."

Obama said the remarks about Iraq weren't a criticism of former President Bush, but were to make his point that he's "less concerned about style points, I’m much more concerned about getting the policy right."

He said the administration may be on the way: "As a consequence of the steps that we’ve taken over the last two weeks to three weeks, we now have a situation in which Syria has acknowledged it has chemical weapons, has said it’s willing to join the convention on chemical weapons, and Russia, its primary sponsor, has– said that it will pressure Syria to reach that agreement.  That’s my goal.  And if that goal is achieved, then it sounds to me like we did something right."


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sally Edelstein

Despite protestations by President Obama that "this is not the cold war," the big chill between Obama and Putin sure feels like the cold war has been taken out of the deep freeze.Having caught a cold war chill I never could quite shake, the current frosty relations between Obama and Putin send a shiver down my spine, as childhood memories of the cold war are quickly defrosted. A visual look at truth, lies and the cold war http://wp.me/p2qifI-1Fp

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"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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