Monday 28 January 2013

Medvedev and Obama’s plain speaking on Syria

Medvedev talking to CNN in Davos

The Kremlin’s staunch support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is fading.
The White House’s comatose stance on Syria will be dragging out.
These are my perceptions of the two positions as expressed in the past 48 hours by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Davos and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.
Medvedev’s interview was aired Sunday on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS.
Obama spoke separately to the New Republic magazine and on CBS 60 Minutes.
Transcripts of the Qs & As on Syria in all three interviews follow.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about Syria.
MEDVEDEV (through translator): Why not.
ZAKARIA: You have said that you, (that) Russia wants to be neutral in the conflict. You're not supporting the Assad regime, but the reality is that the Russian army has trained the Syrian army. There are long ties there, and you have influence with the Syrian government. Very few countries have it. If you believe -- what I'm trying to understand is that it is not in Russia's interest for this conflict to go on, for it to become one in which more and more militant Islamic forces participate and Jihadist groups form. After all, it is directly to your south and could move into Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya. So, why would you not, from a purely Russian national interest point of view, try to get the Assad regime to understand that it must find a compromise and that Assad must step down?
MEDVEDEV (through translator): Let us discuss. From the outset, the Russian Federation was not an exclusive ally of Syria or President Assad. We had good relations with his father and him, but he had much closer allies among the European states.
We never said that our goal was to preserve the current political regime or making sure that President Assad stays in power. That decision has to be made by the Syrian people.
The Syrians are a multi-ethnic and multi-religious people. Thus, we need to have all present at the negotiating table -- Sunnis, Shia, Alawites, Jews, Christians. Only this way could you have a genuine national dialogue.
If you exclude someone, then the civil war will continue, and the war that is already under way. And in it, in my view, both sides are responsible -- the Syrian authorities and the opposition, which, by the way, is largely represented by Islamic radicals.
ZAKARIA: But why doesn't Russia try to broker some such agreement? Why don't you take the lead?
MEDVEDEV (through translator): I personally called Assad a few times and said you need to start reforms; you need to sit down at the negotiating table. I repeat one more time. In my view, unfortunately, the Syrian authorities turned out not to be ready for this.
ZAKARIA: Can Assad survive?
MEDVEDEV (through translator): I think that with every day, with every week, with every month, the chances of him surviving are becoming less and less. But, once again, it should be decided by the Syrian people -- not by Russia, not by the U.S., not by any other country. The most important thing right now is to support the process of national reconciliation.
ZAKARIA: But you agree with me, what is happening in Syria -- the current situation -- is bad for Russia, because it is becoming more and more Islamic, it is becoming more Jihadist. And you will say -- we are 8,000 miles away in the United States. You will face this in your backyard. So, it is an urgency for you to do something.
MEDVEDEV (through translator): It's hard for me to disagree with you. But I believe the situation is so troublesome for everyone because the representatives of radical Jihad will not only penetrate into Russia, they (also) travel to Europe, and they try to infiltrate the U.S. So, this situation is bad for everyone.
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF CHRIS HUGHES: The last question is about Syria. I wonder if you can speak about how you personally, morally, wrestle with the ongoing violence there.
OBAMA: Every morning, I have what's called the PDB—presidential daily briefing—and our intelligence and national security teams come in here and they essentially brief me on the events of the previous day. And very rarely is there good news.
And a big chunk of my day is occupied by news of war, terrorism, clashes, violence done to innocents. And what I have to constantly wrestle with is where and when can the United States intervene or act in ways that advance our national interest, advance our security, and speak to our highest ideals and sense of common humanity.
And as I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations.
In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who've been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?
Those are not simple questions. And you process them as best you can. You make the decisions you think balance all these equities, and you hope that, at the end of your presidency, you can look back and say, I made more right calls than not and that I saved lives where I could, and that America, as best it could in a difficult, dangerous world, was, net, a force for good.
Obama and Clinton on CBS 60 Minutes
STEVE KROFT: The biggest criticism of this team in the U.S. foreign policy from your political opposition has been what they say is an abdication of the United States on the world stage, sort of a reluctance to become involved in another entanglement, an unwillingness or what seems/appears to be an unwillingness to gauge big issues. Syria, for example.
OBAMA: Yeah, well--
KROFT: I mean, that--
OBAMA: Well, Muammar Qaddafi probably does not agree with that assessment, or at least if he was around, he wouldn't agree with that assessment. Obviously, you know, we helped to put together and lay the groundwork for liberating Libya. You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there. But also understanding that we do nobody a service when we leap before we look. Where we, you know, take on things without having thought through all the consequences of it. And Syria's a classic example of where our involvement, we want to make sure that not only does it enhance U.S. security, but also that it is doing right by the people of Syria and neighbors like Israel that are going to be profoundly affected by it.
And so it's true sometimes that we don't just shoot from the hip.
CLINTON: We live not only in a dangerous, but an incredibly complicated world right now with many different forces at work, both state-based and non-state, technology, and communications. And, you know, I'm older than the president. I don't want to surprise anybody by saying that.
OBAMA: But not by much.
CLINTON: But, you know, I remember, you know, some of the speeches of Eisenhower as a young girl, you know? You've got to be careful. You have to be thoughtful. You can't rush in, especially now, where it's more complex than it's been in decades. So yes, are there what we call wicked problems like Syria, which is the one you named? Absolutely. And we are on the side of American values. We're on the side of freedom. We're on the side of the aspirations of all people -- to have a better life, have the opportunities that we are fortunate to have here. But it's not always easy to perceive exactly what must be done in order to get to that outcome. So you know, I certainly am grateful for the president's steady hand and hard questions and thoughtful analysis as to what we should and shouldn't do.
OBAMA: You know, there are transitions and transformations taking place all around the world. We are not going to be able to control every aspect of every transition and transformation. Sometimes they're going to go sideways. Sometimes, you know, there'll be unintended consequences. And our job is to, number one, look after America's security and national interest. But number two, find where are those opportunities where our intervention, our engagement can really make a difference -- and to be opportunistic about that. And that's something that I think Hillary has done consistently. I think the team at the State Department's done consistently. And that's what I intend to continue to do over the next four years.