Transcript: George Stephanopoulos Interviews Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The "GMA" anchor spoke with Medvedev the day after signing the new START treaty.

ByABC News via via logo
April 11, 2010, 10:25 PM

— -- "Good Morning America" anchor George Stephanopoulos interviewed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the day after Medvedev and President Barack Obama signed the new START treaty.

The following is a transcript of the exclusive interview, which took place on Friday, April 9, 2010.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:Mister President, thank you very much for having us in St. Petersburg. This is going to be an interview played to a very broad American audience. And I just want to get to get your view on what's the single most important thing that the average American needs to know about Russia today exactly?

MEDVEDEV:That Russia is the same normal regular country as America.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What does that mean?

MEDVEDEV: That means exactly what I said that we have similar values. And have basically probably the same, what the regular americans would like to have. We'd like to give the population the most comfortable conditions of life which unfortunately we can't always provide. we have a lot of threats which we are fighting and we have tasks that we'd like to achieve, to develop and we have the same values as a democratic country established about 20 years ago.

STEPHANOPOULOS:And we see now a landmark agreement between the United States and Russia over nuclear weapons, signed in Prague. And-- it was a hard fought agreement. And the-- the issue of missile defense still seems to divide the United States and Russia. And I just have a very-- simple question. If the United States continues to develop missile defense in Europe, will Russia withdraw from the START treaty?

MEDVEDEV: I would try to explain it as I understand the process today. For pretty long time and not without difficulties we spoke with our American partners about the agreement about the relationship between strategic offensive arms and the anti missile defensive systems. The point is this is about nuclear forces, or to be exact, with the difference in the configuration between those systems in Russia and the United States. And with the plans that we have and our American partners. As a result of very complicated deliberations, we got to the formula, which is being included in the preambles of the treaty. And that formula is a reflection of very famous judicial principles. Or let's say it this way, that formula says that there is an interconnection between the strategic offensive arms and missile defense. But it's mentioned there also about the circumstances which were the basis the signage of that treaty agreed upon by both parties. So if those circumstances will change then you would have, we would consider it as the reason to jeopardize the whole agreement. That doesn't mean that because of that rule, if the American side starts to build up the missile system that the treaty would automatically lose its power. But this is an additional argument which binds us and which gives us the opportunity to pose the question: is that quantity change of the defense missile configuration leading to a change of the situation in the quality concern? So if we in a certain moment evaluate that the quality of the situation has significantly changed, we would be forced to pose such a question to our American partners. But I would like to make sure there is no impression that any change would be a reason to abandon a signed agreement. Even more, we agreed upon and we spoke about with President Obama and talked about with American representatives that we should cooperate in the creation of global missile defense systems. But if that process will go eventually on such a scenario which, according to our impression, will lead to the quantity changes, then such a question could be posed by our side. And this is the principle of that reasoning, and understanding as well about that oral statement yesterday.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if Russia feels the systems that we built up is a threat, then you withdraw. That's the qualitative change?

MEDVEDEV: Then we can pose the question about premature end of that agreement. But I hope that something like that would not happen. And that we will be busy with those problems of sophistication of potential and the questions about the anti missile defense, we will consult each other and it's our wish to work on it together.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned that this language is in the preamble. Based on my reporting, I heard that in one of your final conversations negotiating with President Obama, you tried to get this language into the body of the text. And he pushed back quite forcefully. What kind of a negotiator is President Obama?

MEDVEDEV: I think that Mr. Obama as the President of the United States of America, he's pursuing the interests of the United States. And me as President of the Russian Federation, I'm trying to defend our interests. The point is that we don't have such huge plans about creation of missile defense systems like in America. But we do understand ourselves that if you build up or escalate the missile defense means to certain levels, they will be able to break the parity. Because what's the basis of today's agreement is the strategic offensive arms. It's based on that, the parties by compromising, by consulting with experts, came to the conclusion that there is a certain parity between us. The parity of certain delivery means and certain warheads, so we are lowering it down, the level of delivery systems and warheads. And we're setting the limit, which is much lower than in the 1991 agreement. But if the fixed parity is being preserved, which is 700 I believe, and 800 undeveloped and developed and 750 heads and the other party radically multiplies the number and power of its missile defense system, obviously that missile defense system is indeed becoming a part of the strategic offensive nuclear forces. Because it's capable of blocking the action of the other side. So an imbalance occurs, and this would be certainly the reason to have a review of that agreement. There is something, and I would like to remind you, I believe you have also a judicial background in your education, there is a famous latin proverb: clausula rebus sixtantus, the agreement is being considered in effect as long as the circumstances in which it was born remain. If they change, that would be the reason for a review of the agreement. That's for any agreement. Such circumstances in this case are related to the development of the anti missile defense system.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've now met with President Obama many times. At least 15 meetings and phone calls.

MEDVEDEV: Sixteen times.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sixteen. Okay, I knew it was 15. I wasn't sure about the 16. What do you make of Barack Obama the man?

MEDVEDEV: He's very comfortable partner, it's very interesting to be with him. The most important thing that distinguishes him from many other people – I won't name anyone by name – he's a thinker, he thinks when he speaks. Which is already pretty good.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You had somebody in your mind, I think. (LAUGHS)

MEDVEDEV: Obviously I do have someone on my mind. I don't want to offend anyone. He's eager to listen to his partner, which is a pretty good quality for a politician. Because any politician is to a certain degree a mentor. They preach something. And the ability to listen to their partner is very important for the politician. And he is pretty deeply emerged in the subject, so he has a good knowledge of what he's talking about. There was no instance in our meetings with Mr. Obama where he wasn't well prepared for the questions. This is very good. And after all, he's simply a very pleasant man with whom it's a pleasure to deal with.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He said very kind things about you as well. And I spoke with him in Prague. And one of the most important things he said about you is that it was when I asked him who's really in charge in Russia, the question you get all the time. You or Prime Minister Putin. And he emphasized-- President Obama emphasized that in every-- every time he's dealt with you, followed through on your commitments and you've kept your word. On that subject, I'm wondering, how tired are you of getting asked the question who's in charge in Russia, you or Prime Minister Putin?

MEDVEDEV: Yes, I'm a little tired. It's annoying a little. Would you like me to answer it one more time? Or are you clear on that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I-- I know what President Obama said, and I've watched both you and-- and Prime Minister Putin closely, and it seems like you work fairly closely together, but sometimes you speak-- in different ways about a similar issue. And what I really just want to get an answer to is how does it work between the two of you? How does the relationship work?

MEDVEDEV: We have a good work relationship and good personal relations. And how does the relationship work between Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden? They also sometimes speak different things. They even have different backgrounds, different biographies, and probably a different set of opinions about the world and its situation. But it does work. And it works with us as well. If you'd like to talk about who is making the decisions in our country, it's a question posed to me many times.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you just answered it.

MEDVEDEV: Basically I did answer it already. But I will be happy to give you another answer, but it's totally trivial, but also very true. The decision is taken by the person who is designated to do it by law. If you consider the questions of foreign and domestic politics, the defense, the security. This is only the President. And nobody else. I maybe would be glad to share it with someone else., especially in very dramatic periods. Like August 2008, when the well known conflict in the caucusus took place. But I cannot state that that decision was not taken by me, or I bear the responsibility for that with other colleagues like Putin or others. I do hold personally the responsibility for that. And I'm not ashamed of that decision. But I would say the most important and most complicated decisions I have to take myself. So we have the government which has its own competence. America doesn't have a government. The government itself generates the laws. The government is busy with economics and this is a lot of work, I used to work in the government for many years. I was the first deputy of the prime minister. This is huge work, huge complicated and not related to the presidential authority. That's the second dimension of our relationship. But I believe within the recent years, we've been able to develop a system that works fine. And I would tell you even more, in my opinion it does work better than in the previous period because we did have a government which was a more technical institution than it should have been. But when the government was headed by such an experienced politician as Putin, a person of huge authority in the country, the government became much more active and its action became much more substantial, especially in times of crisis. Because during crisis people are more concerned. They aren't happy with what's going on and frequently and justly, they blame sometimes the government. And in the case when the authorities are not up to the task, like in certain countries, then it's bad. But if the government keeps its authority and pays attention to the relationship with the people, and takes balanced decisions, then it's good for the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You-- you faced one of these crises recently. The state of-- of bombings, the terrorisms here in Moscow. And one especially hit home in the United States. The suicide bombing in the Moscow subway. I was in New York that day. All the New York subways on high alert. And-- and this picture on the front page of-- papers all across the United States. How did this happen? And what do you do about it?

MEDVEDEV: This is a very tragic story, if we talk about the person on the picture.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A suicide bomber.

MEDVEDEV: That woman is virtually a child. She's just 17. But she has taken the decision for herself which brought the deaths of many people. Why? That's the main question. Why? She grew up in the caucusus region. As far as I understand, if I correctly see what you're showing me this is a lady who married one of the bandits. He is a foreign mercenary. He came to Russia in order to fight for his very doubtful ideals. He was killed. And according to the version which today is maintained by the investigation, this woman was one of those that triggered the explosive. Why did she do it? Why did she do that to innocent people? Evidently there's multiple reasons. First one is radicalism. Extremist nature., which is typical for many people arriving from abroad which are fighting against our government and against many other countries in international terrorism. The same people are in Afghanistan, Pakistan. We're constantly catching people of such a breed, or we destroy them. And after we check their documents we find that they are from far away lands. But this woman, she's from Russia. She's married to one of those bandits. And after he was killed, she made the decision to retaliate. But to retaliate on common people. What's the way to fight it? You can fight it only after you understand how to remove the reasons for it. You know how difficult it is to fight terrorism. It's difficult in Russia and in America. In order to fight such activity, you have to change the psychology of the people. You can create normal life conditions in the Caucusus. You have to destroy all of those who came here for terrorism. Those people are infiltrating through the borders.

STEPHANOPOULOS: From Afghanistan, from Pakistan.

MEDVEDEV: From Afghanistan, Pakistan.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So it's the same threat the United States is facing you're saying?

MEDVEDEV: I believe this is the same threat. Those are the same forces, but it has its own national touch. This is a real struggle. But no less important is working with the ordinary people. The ones which don't want peace have to be destroyed. But others which made a mistake and accidentally got involved, or were brainwashed, you still can work with them. And you have to rehabilitate them to normal life. This is difficult. If we talk about an incident like this, this is a totally different story. Because we must understand, what is a subway? This is such a huge stream of people. There is no technology in the world which would be able to detect explosives or suicide bomber belts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're lucky it hasn't happened in the States yet.

MEDVEDEV: This is exactly what I told Barack Obama yesterday. I told him 'Barack, the subways are in many places, and you should take care of the transportation.' This is a huge problem for our countries. And this is not just on the technological level. I'm ready to fully cooperate with our American partners. I know our American partners and the President are ready for the same. This is the struggle we'll have for a long time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It seems that you're also convinced now, to an outsider, that the Iran nuclear program is a threat to the security of the world.

MEDVEDEV: The Iranian nuclear program is not transparent. And this is the most difficult aspect. Iran, as any country, has the right to develop a peaceful nuclear program, but we also should understand what are the final tasks it's pursuing? It doesn't respond to certain offers which are given by the international community, including Russia.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe Iran wants the bomb?

MEDVEDEV: I don't know what Iran wants. It would be better to ask Iranian leaders. But I believe the nuclear development topic brings together the Iranian community, I don't have a doubt about that. This is the topic which is exploited by the Iranian leadership to bring together the elite or the whole population. Are they pursuing the nuclear weapon or not? I don't know. But we should carefully monitor it. These steps to enrich by 20 percent in their own sites, despite that we offered to do it in Russia, France and Turkey. This could be considered as at least the desire to enter into conflict with the world community.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Iran's unveiling new centrifuges now.

MEDVEDEV: In any case our attempts didn't bring success and this is tragic, especially that there were so many chances. We do have our own relationship with Iran, a very close one. We do have significant trade, we do work with Iran on energy, and we do deliver equipment to Iran. But we cannot watch without any concern how they develop their nuclear program. And that's why I joined the work which today we're doing with the US and other countries. The question is whats next? Are sanctions possible? Would they motivate them to proper behavior?

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what I want to ask you about. Because, you know, strong majorities in the United States Congress look at the three sanctions regimes passed by the U.N. Security Council of Foreign State. They haven't worked. And the majority say it is time now to crack down on the petroleum trade. On refined-- petroleum products and gasoline. Why is that a bad idea?

MEDVEDEV: It's not whether it's a good thought or bad thought, I'm talking about something else. The sanctions is a tricky thing which works seldomly. You yourself were busy with politics, and you know that sanctions is not without conditions. But sometimes you have to do that. What kind of sanctions? We have spoken about that with President Obama yesterday. Sanctions should be effective and they should be smart.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what does that mean?

MEDVEDEV: They should not lead to humanitarian catastrophe, and the whole Iranian community would start to hate the whole world. And we're worried that there are a significant number of people which have radical opinions. Do we want that radical thought to be sent to the whole world? So sanctions should be smart. They should force or obligate the Iranian leadership to think about what's next. What could sanctions be? It could be trade, arms trade. It could be other sanctions. Our experts are reviewing them now. If we're talking about energy sanctions, I'll tell you my opinion. I don't think on that topic we have a chance to achieve a consolidated opinion of the global community on that. By the way, we have our own energy cooperation with Iran. The sanctions should let the country understand that all who impose sanctions have the same opinion. But if half of the countries support the sanctions and the others don't, the sanctions should be smart. Sanctions should not be paralyzing. They should not cause suffering. Aren't we in the 21st century? That's why if we're going to develop our cooperation in this direction we have a chance to succeed. Better would be to go without sanctions and achieve things politically. But a lot of time has passed by.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I-- I think you-- you bring up an important point at the end there. There are so many signs in Israel-- of invasions. And-- that at some point, perhaps soon, some former ministers have suggested by the end of the year Israel be-- feel forced to take military action. What would that mean?

MEDVEDEV: It would be the worst possible scenario. Because any war means lives lost. Secondly, what does a war in the Middle East mean? Everyone is so close over there that nobody would be unaffected. And if conflict of that kind happens, and a strike is performed, then you can expect anything, including use of nuclear weapons. And nuclear strikes in the middle east, this means a global catastrophe. Many deaths.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you as confident as you used to be that Israel will show forbearance and not strike?

MEDVEDEV: I could be certain only about the decisions under my authority. The Israelis are directing its own policy. I do have a good relationship with the President and Prime Minister of Israel. But those are independent people. And I would say that on many questions they are defending stubborn positions. Very tough. And the US has seen the proof of that lately.

STEPHANOPOULOS: On the settlements.

MEDVEDEV: In many instances the Israeli position, including settlements, remained the same even after open and honest talk with America and we have spoken to them also. Why am I bringing it up? Because you can't imagine any scenario , with the Middle east it would be a gigantic human disaster, and not only for the middle east. If something would happen in Iran, the people from that region would try to escape. Where would those people go? They would head toward our borders. They would go to Azerbaijan. Iran has many with roots from Azerbaijan.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've been very forthright about the problems that Russia has to overcome in order to become a modern, as you say, normal-- country. Corruption. Life expectancy has been going down in Russia. Your population is going down. Alcoholism still plaguing so much of the country. What do you say to outside observers who look at Russia, even with the growth you've had in recent years, and see a nation in decline?

MEDVEDEV: The situation is not the best. I would like to make a few corrections to what you said. Thank God the life expectancy is not going down, but up. And within the last period when we started social programs, and I personally started to take care of it, the life expectancy rose already by four years. Unfortunately that's not big, but it's growth. So we're on the correct path. We're still dissatisfied. What should we do? We should boost our economy and develop social programs in health care, education and promote healthy lifestyles. Sports. And a desire to take care of his or her own health. To exercise. There's nothing tricky in it but you have to get to it and create the conditions…

STEPHANOPOULOS: You had a rough Olympics.

MEDVEDEV: I didn't have an olympic games, I didn't take part in them. But they were a tough games for our country, yes, because for the first time we had a steep decline in the medal count. This is not a national disaster, but we have to take a lesson from it. We should prepare better next time. Because when you host the Olympics you are counting on many medals.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You have a big comeback. Let me ask you, the American public doesn't know all that much about you personally. But I was fascinated to be-- in reading your biography to learn many of the details. You were brought up in Soviet Russia, without religion. Yet, at the age of 23, you walk into a church to become baptized. Why?

MEDVEDEV: I did feel that I needed it. I wanted to do it. Why do people go to church? They come because they feel a need, except if they're sightseeing. So at 23 I felt I needed it. I believe it's good for me, because afterwards my life changed. You don't really talk aloud about something like that because the religious feelings should be somewhere deep inside of you. If someone is displaying it, it's not really honest. It's more PR for yourself. But I believe religion is important for every person. Don't you think so?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I do. I was also impressed by the fact that-- you have a deep love of heavy metal. Where did that come from? Led Zeppelin? Deep Purple. Pink Floyd.

MEDVEDEV: That's from my childhood. My adolescence. I don't know what music did you listen to at age 15 or 20? But I did listen to that music even though I was raised behind the Iron Curtain.

STEPHANOPOULOS: My wife makes fun of me for soft rock.

MEDVEDEV: Although I lived behind the Soviet Iron Curtain the music seeped through. We listened to what the whole planet listened to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're still a fan?

MEDVEDEV: Yes but now I'm more diverse in music. I do like classical music, and soft rock, and jazz, which I never listened to when I was 15. Now I like it. The older you get, the more tolerant you get, right?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I have to ask you about a case that has shocked people both in the United States and here in Russia. The case of the seven-year-old boy. Si-- Siberian boy. Ardev Siveliev (PH) who was adopted-- in the United States, returned back alone with a note pinned to his chest saying, I can't keep him anymore. You're shaking your head. You know about this.

MEDVEDEV: Certainly I know and that's terrible and that young boy, Artyom Savyelyev, he simply fell into a very bad family. You know I would not like to finish the interview with the conversation on such a complicated topic, but I would like to say couple of things. first of all , it is a monstrous deed on the part of his adoptive parents, to take the kid and virtually throw him out with the airplane in the opposite direction and to say, I'm sorry I could not cope with it, take everything back is not only immoral but also against the law. And secondly what is now of my special concern, is the fact that the quantity of such cases in America is on the rise. We did have a couple of deaths of the kids which were adopted by American parents recently. That case thank God was without a fatal end, and without any bodily injury or trauma. Our agency responsible for kids' rights did react already to that. And even the minister of the department.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your minister has suggested freezing-- freezing adoptions. Is that a good idea?

MEDVEDEV: You know any harsh decision is never either totally wrong or totally good. I believe considering that negative experience which has been accumulated in that department we should think with our American colleagues about some agreement between us about where the expectations which would outline very strongly the responsibilities of the parents which are taking the children from Russia, which will provide the monitoring opportunities of such a family. We should understand what is going on with our children, or we will totally refrain from the practice of adopting Russian children by American adoptive parents. I can only say we are alarmed by the tendency. This is very sad and I would like after the conversation with you, we would attract attention to that problem by American authorities.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question. Are the days of the Cold War that both you and I grew up in, are they gone for good?

MEDVEDEV: I would like to express my hope that yes. The Cold War was a boring thing. Nobody gets better for it. Tremendous money is wasted. Our lives get more difficult. We look at each other as enemies. What's good in that? In any case, I will do anything in my power in order to stop another Cold War, with the US or any other country in the world.

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