originally posted at 21:08
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WASHINGTON, September 12 (RIA Novosti) – The White House responded sharply Thursday to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times that criticized a US push for military action in Syria, but it reiterated Washington’s commitment to working with Moscow to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
“We’re not surprised by President Putin’s words. But the fact is that Russia offers a stark contrast that demonstrates why America is exceptional. Unlike Russia, the United States stands up for democratic values and human rights in our own country and around the world,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told a news briefing.
The response was a clear reference to Putin’s criticism of US President Barack Obama’s use of the word “exceptional” to describe the American people this week, which the Russian leader called “extremely dangerous” in his op-ed published on the Times’ website Wednesday evening.
Putin used the piece to assail US unilateralism and recite a laundry list of Russian objections to the Obama administration’s push for a military strike against Syria in response to an apparent Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that Washington blames on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The op-ed came ahead of talks between the two countries in Geneva on Thursday to discuss Russia’s plan to have Syria transfer control of its chemical weapons arsenal to international monitors for eventual destruction.
Carney on Thursday used Putin’s choice to publish his critique in America’s leading newspaper to take a dig at Russia’s record on civil liberties since Putin’s ascent 13 years ago, a record officials in Moscow defend but which is routinely censured by Western governments.
“It reflects the truly exceptional tradition in this country of freedom of expression, and that is not a tradition shared in Russia, by Russia, and in fact freedom of expression has been on the decrease over the past dozen or so years in Russia,” Carney said.
Carney added, however, that the key takeaway from Putin’s op-ed is that Russia has “put its prestige and credibility on the line” in backing its plan to rid Assad’s government of its chemical weapons and that Washington remains committed to the diplomatic gambit.
“We are going to work with the Russians to see if this diplomatic avenue to resolving this problem can bear fruit,” he said. “And that is absolutely worthwhile and the right thing to do.”
There was little new in Putin’s op-ed with regard to Russia’s core public positions on the Syria conflict.
These include Moscow’s view that outside military intervention is unacceptable without approval from the UN Security Council and that such an incursion could embolden dangerous extremist elements currently fighting Assad’s forces and “unleash a new wave of terrorism” that could spread outside the region.
Putin also outlined more controversial Russian positions, namely that the Aug. 21 attack could have been carried out by the Syrian opposition to “provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons,” an assertion that flies in the face of Washington’s claim that Assad’s government was almost certainly responsible for the attack.
Carney singled out this assertion during Thursday’s briefing at the White House, calling Russia “isolated and alone in blaming the opposition” for the Aug. 21 attack.
“We have seen no credible reporting that the opposition has used chemical weapons in Syria, and we have been joined now by 34 countries in declaring that the Assad regime is responsible for the use of chemical weapons on that night,” Carney said.
Putin also invoked the preeminence of international law and the concept of equality, prompting accusations of hypocrisy from a range of US lawmakers and influential political players in Washington.
“I almost wanted to vomit,” Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN on Wednesday after Putin’s piece was published on the Times’ website.
Menendez cited the Russian leader’s KGB service as a cause for concern in assessing the op-ed.
“I worry when someone who came up through the KGB tells us what is in our national interests, and what is not,” Menendez said. “It really raises the question of how serious the Russian proposal is.”
Leon Panetta, the former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), told NBC on Thursday morning that the op-ed was an attempt by Putin to weaken Washington’s positions in this week’s negotiations in Geneva led by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“It’s pretty clear the whole purpose of that was to try to weaken our resolve and to try to make sure that we would not fulfill our pledge to conduct military action if we have to,” Panetta said.
Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and a vociferous Kremlin critic, was more blunt on his Twitter feed Thursday, calling Putin’s op-ed “an insult to the intelligence of every American.”
Putin’s reference to “equality” also triggered swipes from US politicians and media outlets aimed at a controversial Russian law passed earlier this year banning the “promotion of non-traditional relationships to minors.”
The Kremlin maintains that the law does not prevent adults from making their own sexual choices, but it has been sharply criticized by world leaders, and opponents who say it amounts to a state-supported crackdown on gay people.
“Hopefully, when Pres. Putin says ‘we must not forget that God created us equal’ he includes gays and lesbians in Russia,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader in the US House of Representatives, wrote on her Twitter feed Thursday.
Putin’s op-ed had garnered more than 3,000 comments on the Times’ website as of late Thursday afternoon, many of which echoed the criticism leveled by US officials. Many of the readers, however, said that while they question Putin’s motives and own record on international law and human rights, they found his arguments against the Obama administration’s position on Syria compelling.
“I am shocked that, after reading President Putin’s opinion, I feel that he is correct,” one person wrote. “The Russian president, an ex-KGB agent, a man who has led his county on some of their own missions of destruction, suddenly delivers a message which strikes a chord in me.”
Another, identified as Dmitry Mikheyev, said he is a Russian-American who spent six years as a Soviet political prisoner before receiving US political asylum and “has no reason to love the KGB and has all the reasons to love America.”
“But to me, this stance on Syria makes more sense that anything else I heard from American political-military-industrial-media elite,” Mikheyev wrote. “ … America has to learn to live with complexities of the real world. The black-and-white thinking leads to endless wars with others. Such policy will inevitably result in self-destruction.”
Updated with new headline, Carney’s comments, Pelosi’s quote, and background throughout.
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- ruypenalvaAs Israeli people, American people think they were...23:40, 12/09/2013As israeli people, american people think they were elect to God to bring peace and mercy to the earth. The elected people. Obama Shalom Abraham.
- PR101Mr.Putin23:43, 12/09/2013An example of American "exceptionalism" is the fact that we live in a society where your article could be published for all Americans to read and study. Also, I do not think you understand the meaning of the term in the minds of Americans. It is a statement about a system and does not mean to imply that American people are any better than any other.
Thank You for your article. Maybe someday Russia will be a country where we can reciprocate.
- bielecTo PR101:01:04, 13/09/2013What does PR stand for? Public Relations? Aha...
I suggest that you base your comments on facts, not on fabrications. Obama does not have to write op-eds in RIA Novosti. RIA Novosti reports on every statement made by Obama, even when his statements are highly critical of Russia. So, stop creating fiction.
- gauag10(no title)13:41, 13/09/2013You have no clue how biased your media is. Thats why you think the world is bad and you are exceptional.
Its as simple as that.
- bielecWhat a bunch of lying crooks00:15, 13/09/2013To Menendez: - Yes, the truth hurts. Honesty has a future but, if you are not used to it, it may hurt you. Puking is a result. Drinking urine may help.
It is surprising, but nevertheless true, that someone who "came up through the KGB" makes much more sense than the American propaganda and the neocon-zionist mantra.
To McCain: - Putin's op-ed was an insult only to those Americans who don't have the ability to think independently. This applies to you in the first place.
To the White House: - Putin has "invested his credibility" in defending international law. Given the history of the world since September 11, 2001, he has way more credibility in this regard than any of the American politicians. Nobody, except for real dummies, trusts the U.S. anymore.
To Ayotte and Panetta: - Putin is very kind. He is trying to explain to the American people what Russia stands for. He is not "lecturing", he says it the way it is.
American policies with respect to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iran, were criminal. He did not say that you should be punished for planning, preparing, threatening, and conducting aggressive wars as well as for using terrorism as a pretext for aggression and to circumvent international law. So, stop your demagogy and look in the mirror.
- goldbladderIf you guys are so concerned about human rights...01:27, 13/09/2013...then why don't you bomb Israel, Bahrain, Qatar, and the Saudis?
- moistThats the opinion of...10:02, 13/09/2013...the war party,russophopic cold-war left overs,israel and AIPAC of course (and their little fifth column amen corner in Russia). But not that of the ordinary Americans to whom this article was directed. If the war party and the israel-firsters who constantly drags the US into wars, to pay and bleed for israel (why do they never send their own children or pay themselves?), hate Vladimir Putin then there is every reason to take his piece of reason to heart.
Obombah is seen as a week president who see no other choice than to follow the marching orders,even towards a WW3 apparently, whereas Putin in exactly the right moment after another initiative immediately seized by Lavrov after Kerry´s give-away gaffe, published the op-ed.
The Americans are tired of eternal wars for profit and for israel, that's why they love Putin who,for now at least, disarmed the war-maniacs and averted a global catastrophe. A brilliant checkmate move by a brilliant chess player. It is also telling that Russia back´s it´s initiative with the strongest armada of warship ever,between US ships and Syria, just in case. Latest from Kerry & Co say´s that they are hell bent on the war path...
- moistIf any othe country on earth...10:07, 13/09/2013...claim exceptional rights to intervene,kill and maim anywhere any time we call it for what it is: Imperialism
Any anti-ISIL operation in Iraq cannot be effective unless the Islamic State is attacked in Syria. But the final statement of the Paris Conference did not mention Syria as a precaution against disunity in the coalition and with due regard for the Russian position. Professor of the Chair of Modern East Department of History, Political Science and Law in RSUH