'This Week' Transcript: President Barack Obama

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. I welcome him saying, "I will take responsibility for pushing my client, the Assad regime, to deal with these chemical weapons." Because I think that if, in fact not only Russia gets involved, but if potentially Iran gets involved as well in recognizing that what's happening there is a train wreck that hurts not just Syrians but destabilizing the entire region...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But aren't you worried at all that Putin is playing...

OBAMA: ...we can do something later.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ...for time and playing you?

OBAMA: Well, you know Ronald Reagan said, "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.

You know Mr. Putin and I have strong disagreements on a whole range of issues. But I can talk to him. We have worked together on important issues. The fact of the matter is, is that we couldn't be supplying all of our troops in Afghanistan if he weren't helping us in-- in transporting those supplies through the northern borders of Afghanistan.

So there are a whole range of areas where we currently work together.

We've worked together on counterterrorism operations.

And so you know this is not the Cold War. This is not a contest between the United States and Russia. I mean the fact of the matter is, is that if Russia wants to have some influence in Syria post-Assad, that doesn't hurt our interests.

I know that sometimes this gets framed or looked at through the lens of the U.S. versus Russia. That's not what this is about. What this is about is how do we make sure that we don't have the worst weapons in the hands either of a murderous regime, or in the alternative, some elements of the opposition that are as opposed to the United States as they are to Assad.


STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): This weekend, after intense talks, the U.S. and Russia hammered down a deal.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Providing this framework is fully implemented, it can end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people, but also to their neighbors, to the region...

STEPHANOPOULOS: It calls for Syria to admit international inspectors by November and to allows its chemical weapons to be destroyed starting next year. But President Assad has not yet endorsed the deal. And the rebels fighting his regime fear it will empower him.


STEPHANOPOULOS: If, one year from now, Assad is in the process of surrendering his chemical weapons, but he's strengthened his hold on power, is that a victory?

OBAMA: Well, the chemical weapons issue is the issue I'm concerned about first and foremost, simply because that speaks directly to U.S. interests. It speaks to the potential that other countries start producing more chemical weapons, that the ban on chemical weapons unravels, and it becomes more accessible to terrorists which, in turn, could be used against us.

So I have a primary concern there.

I also believe that the U.S. has an interest in seeing a stable-- Syria in which people aren't being slaughtered. And it is hard to envision how Mr. Assad regains any kind of legitimacy after he's gassed or his military has gassed innocent civilians and children.

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