Obama: 'Trust, but verify' on Putin's Syria plan

David Jackson
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President Obama is seen in an image from ABC's "This Week"on Sept. 15.
  • President says he is taking a %22trust%2C but verify%22 approach to Russia and Syria
  • Obama tells ABC he hopes Iran draws the right lessons from the Syria episode
  • President says he is more interested in policy than %22style points%22

WASHINGTON -- President Obama says he is taking a "trust, but verify" approach to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and his proposal to remove Syria's chemical weapons.

"This is not the Cold War, this is not a contest between the United States and Russia," Obama told ABC's This Week in an interview broadcast Sunday.

ABC taped the interview Friday, before the United States and Russia announced an agreement to inventory Syria's chemical weapons program and seize its components. The agreement also calls for penalties on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government if it fails to comply.

Obama also said he hopes that Iran is paying attention to the Syrian episode when it comes to the ongoing dispute over the Iranian nuclear program.

"They shouldn't draw a lesson ... to think we won't strike Iran," Obama said, and the real lesson is that "there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically."

Repeating that he would block Iran's efforts to develop the means to make nuclear weapons, Obama said: "My view is that if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that, in fact ... you can strike a deal."

Obama also confirmed he has had an exchange of letters with new Iranian President Hasan Rowhani.

Obama, whose shifting approach to Syria in recent weeks has been criticized, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, he is less concerned about "style points" than "getting the policy right."

Said Obama: "What I've said consistently throughout is that the chemical weapons issue is a problem. I want that problem dealt with."

Late last month, following an Aug. 21 chemical attack on civilians, Obama and aides indicated they would stage a military strike designed to degrade Assad's chemical weapons capability. Obama then suddenly announced he would seek authorization from Congress for a military strike.

As lawmakers indicated opposition to military action, Obama announced he would back a diplomatic initiative from Russia, Syria's primary ally, to have Syria place its chemical weapons under international control.

Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart announced an agreement Saturday.

As for his sudden partnership with Putin -- with whom he has clashed on other issues -- Obama said they can work together on some things.

Obama, who credited that "trust but verify" line to predecessor Ronald Reagan, said that has been the historic experience of American presidents in dealing with Soviet and now Russian leaders.

The current president also dismissed a Putin op-ed last week criticizing the United States, and told Stephanopoulos, "I don't think that Mr. Putin has the same values that we do."

He added: "And I think, obviously, by protecting Mr. Assad, he has a different attitude about the Assad regime."

In other issues, Obama said:

• He would not negotiate with Congress on increasing the debt ceiling, saying the government needs that authority to pay bills it has already accrued. "We've never had the situation in which a party said that, you know, 'unless we get our way 100%, then we're gonna let the United States default,'" Obama said.

• Conservative House Republicans are blocking legislation on immigration and gun control. "We have a faction of the Republican Party -- in the House of Representatives in particular -- that view 'compromise' as a dirty word," Obama said, "and anything that is even remotely associated with me, they feel obliged to oppose."

• He's not thinking about the 2016 race to replace him, including the prospect of a Democratic primary battle between Vice President Biden and former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. "I just got re-elected last year," Obama said. "My focus is on the American people right now. I'll let you guys worry about the politics."

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