Meet the Press   |  February 09, 2014

Ambassador: Sochi 'Threat Assessment Has Not Changed'

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul discusses Sochi security with NBC's David Gregory.

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

>> as the games are under way, as i said, there's a focus on our athletes but the threats are real. all the reporting i've done in washington indicates this elevated threat environment. what's your own assessment there as the games have begun on the ground?

>> well, the threat environment is the primary responsibility for our team on the ground here. we've been preparing for this for several months. actually a couple of years now. we have an office here with about 150 people. the threat assessment has not changed since we've been here. and we accord fate very closely with the russians to share information about anything that might happen.

>> the fear is that the russians are not actually sharing everything they've got for fear that the u.s. would exploit that, would somehow try to make them look bad. is that the case? do you know everything you need to know to keep our athletes and others safe there?

>> well, we always want to know more. and if you work in the intelligence business, you always want more information from any partner country. that said, we do not have an interest in embarrassing the russians . we have exactly the same interests with them when it companies to the security of everyone here in sochi. so we're quite satisfied with the level of cooperation we have now.

>> as i said, the cloud over these games politically is not only is it a political charged time, but our relationship with russia seems to be at a real low point. we have a huge debate over the fate of edward snowden who has political asylum there, this latest flap as richard engel was reporting on over russia rather over ukraine and the leaked tape of victoria nuland . what does that say about this moment and how bad things have gotten?

>> well, i would expand the list of what is in the tus/russian relationship right now. so all the three issues that you just mentioned are real. we're managing them, we're dealing with the russians in a very serious way, and at the same time, there's continuity in cooperation on a lot of really important security issues for the united states of america . if we're talking about afghanistan, we're talking about iran, syria's chemical weapons , those are all places where we continue to cooperate with the russians even as we manage these more difficult issues. and i just think that's the nature of the u.s./russian relationship in the year 2014 . some cooperation, some disagreement.

>> right you about it goes beyond that, doesn't it? here's vladimir putin who is using this moment to project russian greatness. we saw that in the opening ceremonies . and yet, he's been happy to use edward snowden to embarrass the united states , leaking the intercepted tape of victoria nuland . have you yourself been bugged by the russians ?

>> well, as we remind all americans that come to this country, the russian government has tremendous capabilities and legal by their law of intercepting phone calls, e-mails, et cetera . there's no doubt that i am a primary subject of interest for them. and from time to time, they have also leaked conversations i have that i thought were private. that's just the state of working in russia . it is interesting to me that this doesn't get more attention to our critics and, of course, it goes beyond the pale of diplomatic protocol if indeed the russians were responsible to actually publish a private conversation between two when we can, the president has aid said it many times, we want to seek win win outcomes with the russians . when we can't, we're going to pursue our own national interests brought without them and we're going to maintain our commitmenting to universal value , democracy and human rights and we're not going to stop thinking about those things or stop criticizing the russian government in the name of some other outcome we want on the security or trade side. that's our policy. it's been our policy for five years. i this i it's been effective. both in obtaining our outcoles that we want on our interests slug and on being honest and committed to our values.

>> this is a time when americans are focused on russia and russian leadership like never before. here's the cover of the economist a week ago, vermont vladimir putin the triumph of vladimir putin is takened photo of him on the ice in the opening ceremonies really built on that. i've talked to friends and family. they say, well, so what's the deal with russia is this is it a democracy? david remnick editor of "the new yorker" wrote a piece about putin and writes putin obviously is no democrat. not remotely. he's not interested in the contemporary requirements of human rights . he's not interested in empowering a real legislature or seating is true independents to the courts. democracy is not in his interests. stability and development those are his themes first and last and he regards any and all attempts from the west to call him to account on nearly any issue as acts of anti-russian self-righteousness and hypocrisy. what do you say?

>> well, we as an administration first and foremost starting with the president and me as the ambassador here virtually every day are very open in criticizing the russian government when we see some kinds of restrictions on human rights and human rights of all kinds, including with respect to sexual orientation. obviously, the delegation that i was a member of here for the opening ceremonies reflects that. and that message i think is very clear. and the second thing i would say moral broadly, you said that putin wants stability and development. i think the history shows that the most stable countries in the world are democracies. and the richest countries in the world are democracies. so we don't see those aspirations as intention with each other.

>> do you think that russia has got on the message about gay rights or has it chosen to ignore it?

>> no, they got the message. they know exactly where we stand on that issue. and i'm very proud of the way we've communicated our views on that issue.

>> do you think there's going to be any movement it significantly within the country on it?

>> that's a bigger issue. that's a harder issue because of the domestic politics here. i keep in touch with everybody in that community, in fact, i just saw many of their leaders just a few days ago, and we hope that in the long run, that president putin will see economic modernization and political modernization as two things that go hand in hand .

>> i want to pin you down one more on snowden . it's been suggested on this program by lawmakers in the intelligence field that edward snowden is perhaps a spy for the russians . do you see evidence that would validate that?

>> well, i can't comment on the evidence here or there in terms of those things. what i can say is we want mr. snowden to come home, face the charges against him and have a court of law decide what he has and has not done.

>> finally, if you have any expertise there on the ground, give it to us us straight. how do you see the u.s. team doing in the end in terms of gold medals ?

>> i'm not an expert on that although i've got to tell you, we have had a fantastic time here. we got to see four events yesterday. seeing americans perform in all of those. it's a great atmosphere here, by the way, david. it's the american team's feeling very confident. but i don't want to go -- i don't want to get ahead of my skis or beyond my skis. i am not an expert when it comes 0 those things. i hope by the end, we will win. and everywhere i go, of course, i run into lots of russian government officials. i especially want to make sure we're just slightly ahead of the russians .

>> all right. we'll leave it there. ambassador mcfall, thank you very much.

>> thanks for having me.