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TODAY   |  September 12, 2013

Panetta: Putin op-ed trying ‘to weaken our resolve’

Former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta tells TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie that the New York Times op-ed piece written by President Vladimir Putin is the Russian leader’s effort to weaken the U.S.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> much. leon panetta served as the secretary of defense and cia director . he is with us. good to see you.

>> i have to ask you. i don't know if we've seen anything like this before, a foreign leader urging americans directly not to engage in military conflict . what do you think of the tactic?

>> you know, we work with the russians in a number of capacities, specifically as cia director as secretary of defense. i think 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. so i think he was trying to, in his own way, weaken the united states in the effort to negotiate these issues.

>> it's a fascinating op-ed, on the one hand, it appears to be an argument. it lectures americans on american law . it gets in a few digs. he write, it is alarming military intervention and efernal conflicts in the foreign countries has become common place around the united states . millions around the world see america not as a model of draerks but is seen as brute force , coddling under the slogan you are either with us or against us. when you look at this, is putin out-maneuvering president obama , is he trying to play president obama ?

>> i think first and foremost, we have to understand president putin should be the last person to leg closure the united states ability our human values and our human rights and what we stand for. we know what we stand for. we know what we're fighting for in the world and i think his effort to try to, you know, do this by a column in the new york times is just not going to work. we know who the russians are.

>> let's talk about this larger deal that is potentially on the table. diplomacy instead of military intervention in syria. do you think this is real or do you think this is a stalling tactic?

>> i think we have to be very careful and cautious in the way we approach this. obviously, we have to pursue it. the president wants to pursue it. secretary kerry is there to see if we can get some place. i don't think we should kid ourselves, this is going to be very tough. the russians have been playing for time. this could be a stalling tactic. i do believe we have to set some time limits here, we can't let the drag on.

>> you'd give a deadline for diplomacy?

>> i don't know if we'd set a deadline. we have to make clear this cannot drag on. ultimately, we need to make progress here. this is complicated an not easy to do. the last thing is to have this drag on for months and have the united states ' credibility harmed by all of us.

>> quickly, you were the one who agreed with then cia director petraeus and then clinton arming the rebels ability that time about a year ago may have tipped the balance. did the president miss his moment by rejecting that advice?

>> i understand why the president made that decision. he was worried about arms getting into the wrong hands. now he's made that decision. i'm glad he has. we have to back up the rebels and do everything to insure that we have some kind of peaceful transition, post-importantly, we have to be credible in twla the president's status commander in chief was all ability. our national security interests demand fa if we can't get them to cough up their chemical weapons , that we will conduct this limited attack.

>> former defense secretary leon panetta , it's a pleasure to have you.