WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama says a U.S.-Russian agreement offers a chance to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons and promises to end the threat they pose to Syrians and the world.
But the two powers are divided over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Obama, speaking in a television interview taped before Saturday’s announcement of the chemical weapons deal, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “protecting” Assad and doesn’t share American “values” in Syria.
“He has a different attitude about the Assad regime,” Obama told ABC’s “This Week.”
“But what I’ve also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos, we both have an interest in preventing terrorism. The situation in Syria right now is untenable. As long as Mr. Assad’s in power, there is going be some sort of conflict there.”
Obama’s interview was taped Friday and aired Sunday.
Despite Obama’s calls for Assad to leave power, Obama reiterated that he would not use military force to achieve that objective. He said securing Syria’s chemical weapons is his “primary concern.”
In setting out one of the most ambitious arms-control efforts in history, the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement to inventory Syria’s chemical weapons program and seize all its components. The agreement includes imposing penalties if the Assad government fails to comply.
In a written statement following the agreement, Obama said the world expects Syria to live up to its public commitments to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile. Warning that the U.S. was prepared to act if Syria falls short, he also cautioned that more work remains even after the progress the deal represents.
The U.S. and others blame Assad’s government for an Aug. 21 gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian capital. Assad denies the charge, blaming Syrian rebels.