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Former defense secretary Leon Panetta dismissed the impact that a New York Times editorial, written by Russian President Vladimir Putin, will have on U.S. action against Syria.
“It’s pretty clear that the whole purpose of that was to try to weaken our resolve and to try to make sure we would not fulfill our pledge to conduct military action if we have to,” he told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Thursday. “I think he was trying to, in his own way, weaken the United States in the effort to negotiate these issues.”
In the editorial, Putin warned that a U.S. military strike against Syria could prompt a new wave of terrorism and worsen instability in the Middle East and North Africa.
He also mocked America’s self-image, saying “millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan 'you’re either with us or against us.’”
Panetta said the president of a nation widely known for its repeated human rights violations shouldn’t be lecturing other countries on behavior.
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“President Putin should be the last person to lecture the United States about our human values and our human rights and what we stand for,” he said. “We know what we stand for. We know what we’re fighting for in the world. And his effort to try to do this by a column in the New York Times is just not going to work. We know who the Russians are."
The United States should consider Russia’s offer to provide a diplomatic solution to averting a U.S. military strike against Syria but it also must be firm about following through with an attack if negotiations break down, he said.
“The Russians frankly, have been playing for time, along with the Syrians. This could be a stalling tactic. I do believe we have to set some time limits,” Panetta said.
“The last thing is to have this thing drag on for months and then have the United States’ credibility harmed by all of this,” he said.
Earlier this week, Russia proposed a diplomatic solution by offering to get Syria to hand over its chemical weapons to Russian control. On Tuesday, Obama said during a prime-time national address he would delay a military strike to first work with Russia and other countries to get Syria to give up its chemical weapons.
Panetta dismissed the idea of setting a steadfast deadline, but said the administration can't let too much time pass. The United States must be firm that "our national security interests demand that if we can’t get them to cough up their chemical weapons, we will conduct this limited attack," he said.