| WASHINGTON, Sept 15
WASHINGTON, Sept 15 President Barack Obama
rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin's claim that Syrian
rebels were responsible for an Aug. 21 chemical gas attack but,
in an interview broadcast on Sunday, he welcomed Putin's
diplomatic role in the crisis.
Obama, in an interview on ABC's "This Week With George
Stephanopolous," defended his handling of the Syria crisis and
dismissed criticism of his zig-zag approach to the issue as an
argument about style.
Obama also said he and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
had exchanged letters about the situation in Syria and that the
Iranians understand the U.S. concern about a potential
nuclear-armed Iran "is a far larger issue" for the United
Obama and Putin have become unlikely allies on Syria after
U.S. threats to launch a military strike against Syria over the
chemical weapons attack prompted a diplomatic initiative that
has led to a framework deal on Saturday aimed at gaining control
of Syria's poison gas stockpiles.
Obama said he welcomed Putin's involvement as helpful and
said any deal on Syria must include a verifiable way to ensure
that it gives up all its chemical weapons capacity.
"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," Obama said. "And 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.'"
But Obama dismissed Putin's charge that it was the Syrian
rebels who launched the chemical weapons attack, instead of
forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as Washington
"Well, nobody around the world takes seriously the idea that
the rebels were the perpetrators of this," Obama said.
Washington says the attacked killed more than 1,400
Obama's response to the crisis in Syria has received mixed
reviews from the American people. A Reuters-Ipsos poll last week
found only 35 percent of Americans were satisfied with how he
was handling the situation.
He also has come under criticism from some lawmakers and
many analysts for a bumpy approach to the crisis by first
threatening a unilateral military strike, then suddenly asking
Congress to authorize it, then asking Congress to postpone the
vote to give diplomacy a chance.
In the ABC interview, Obama defended his approach, saying
the steps he has taken had led to a situation where Syria has
acknowledged it has chemical weapons and that its key ally,
Russia, is pressuring Syria to give them up.
"I think that folks here in Washington like to grade on
style," Obama said. "And 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."
Obama did not reveal details of his exchange of letters with
Iran's Rouhani but made clear that U.S. concerns about Iran's
nuclear ambitions are paramount.
Obama said he doubted Rouhani would "suddenly make it easy"
to negotiate with and said the United States would keep up the
pressure for Tehran to give up a nuclear program that Iran
denies is aimed at building an atomic weapon.
"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," he said.