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White House pushes back on Putin’s op-ed on Syria

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AP: The White House pushed back Thursday against Russian President Vladimir Putin for his opinion piece in The New York Times that blamed opposition forces for the latest deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria and argued President Barack Obama’s remarks about America were self-serving.
The Associated Press

By Deb Riechmann

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House pushed back Thursday against Russian President Vladimir Putin for his opinion piece in The New York Times that blamed opposition forces for the latest deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria and argued President Barack Obama’s remarks about America were self-serving.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. wasn’t surprised by Putin’s piece and that Russia is “isolated and alone” in blaming the Syrian opposition for the deadly Aug. 21 attack. Even countries like Iran agree that the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad is responsible, Carney said.

In his piece, Putin wrote: “No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said it would be “preposterous for anyone to suggest that anyone other than the Assad regime is responsible.”

“We’ve laid out our intelligence assessment, and it’s one in which we have high confidence. So we stand by that,” Harf said.

The assessment concludes that 1,429 people were killed, including 426 children, but the U.S. is alone in that estimate. Others are lower.

Putin also said it was dangerous for America to think of itself as exceptional. He was referring to remarks Obama made in his Tuesday speech. The president said that America is not the world’s policeman, but that if it can stop children from being gassed to death, the U.S. should act.

“That’s what makes America different,” Obama said. “That’s what makes us exceptional.”

Putin disagreed.

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” Putin wrote.

“There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Carney defended Obama’s comment, saying the U.S. response to bloodshed in Syria demonstrated why America is exceptional. He also said there is “great irony” in Putin placing his piece in the newspaper, a symbol of freedom of expression, which he said was on the decline in Russia.

House Speaker John Boehner went further, saying he was insulted by Putin’s article.

Boehner, who has supported Obama’s call for military action against Syria, offered no specifics about what angered him. Asked to expand on his views, Boehner said he had probably already said too much and added, “But you got the truth.”

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