President Barack Obama went mano-a-mano with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News segment “This Week” to talk about what will certainly be a defining moment for the Obama presidency: the handling of the Syrian chemical weapons quandary.
Stephanopoulos spoke with Obama on the eve of an official deal between Russia and the United States to rid Syria of its chemical weapons arsenal.
As the interview opened, Obama argued that the United States is in a better position because a deal to prevent the Syrian arsenal from being accessed had been struck. When asked if he felt a chemical attack would reoccur, Obama said that a distinct possibility exists of preventing future attacks, albeit a hazy one.
“The Russians are protecting the Syrians, suggesting that there’s no possibility that the Assad regime might have done this. And the inspectors weren’t even in yet,” Obama said. “As a consequence of the pressure that we’ve applied over the last couple of weeks, we have Syria — for the first time — acknowledging that it has chemical weapons, agreeing to join the convention that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.”
When Obama broached Assad’s name, Stephanopoulos couldn’t help but bring up Vladimir Putin’s op-ed from the New York Times accusing the Syrian rebel forces of deploying the sarin gas. “Nobody around the world takes seriously the idea that the rebels perpetrated this attack,” Obama replied frankly. “He wrote it in The New York Times,” Stephanopoulos insisted. To put the subject to rest, Obama emphasized the people who really have no business with access to these weapons: al-Qaeda extremists with no qualms about deploying them against anyone in their way.
“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,” Obama 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.”
And finally, Obama’s opinion on Putin’s involvement: “I don’t think that Mr. Putin has the same values that we do. And I think obviously by protecting Mr. Assad he has a different attitude about the Assad regime…. But what I’ve also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos… And I think there’s a way for Mr. Putin, despite me and him having a whole lot of differences, to play an important role in that. And so I welcome him being involved.”