Thomas Roberts   |  September 12, 2013

Sen. Risch: Putin op-ed 'another bizarre chapter'

Senator Jim Risch, R-Idaho, talks to Thomas Roberts about Vladimir Putin's op-ed in the New York Times.

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

>>> thomas roberts . topping our agenda, from vladimir with love. russian president turns to "the new york times" to write an op-ed about american exceptionalism this after president obamaset sens his secretary of state to the meet with his counterpart. the devil is in the details and that's why john kerry arrived in geneva to discuss syria giving up chemical weapons . vladimir putin penned this in the op-ed and he didn't mince words. the chemical weapons were not used by the syrian government, but instead the syrian opposition and that any u.s. strikes would increase violence and kick off a new wave of terrorism.

>> i think it is pretty clear that 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.

>> the white house response to this, putin is putting his credibility on the line. jay carney saying something similar at the white house yesterday.

>> demonstrates that, you know, russia is now putting its prestige on the line when it comes to moving further along this diplomatic avenue.

>> >> as the government confirms a new " washington post " report that they're suppliering the fighters with much-needed weaponry. we begin with kristen well kerr.

>> let's start more with the putin op-ed and i want to put it up there. millions around the world increasingly see america not as a model of democracy, but as relying solely on brute force under the slogan you're either with us or against us. so obviously, the white house needs to pivot in response to this. he does talk in this op-ed about the growing trust between himself and president obama , but this will make it a bit awkward for secretary kerry who is meeting with his russian foreign minister , the counterpart over in geneva .

>> you're absolutely right, thomas . there is no doubt that the timing of this is awkward. this is a clear pr push by president vladimir putin meant to undercut to some extent president obama , and the obama administration. the officials traveling with secretary kerry according to our own andrea mitchell are down playing this op-ed and that is consistent with my reporting here at the white house . the official word coming from the administration, according to a senior administration official is this, quote, president putin hass has invested his credibility and ultimately destroying them. the world will note whether russia can follow through on that commitment. sort of consistent, thomas with the sound bite that you just played from jay carney and in my conversations, white house officials say they're focusing on the part of putin 's op-ed in which he continues to support the idea of the syrian regime turning over its chemical weapons stockpile, but the reaction from the hill is quite different. democrats and republicans lambasting that op-ed and you have mike rogers , the chair of the house intelligence committee underscores the fact that the obama administration has mishandled the policy and skepticism about whether or not kerry is going to get a deal when he travels overseas. thomas ?

>> kristen welker, thanks so much.

>> and as secretary of state kerry plans to hold three days of talks with his russian counterpart. here's president bashar al assad said on russian tv today that russian diplomacy and not u.s. threats influenced his decision to hand over chemical weapons .

>> andrea mitchell files this report from geneva .

>> reporter: hi there, thomas . as secretary kerr was flying to geneva for this meeting which will take place in a couple of hours with the russian foreign minister , and you see "the new york times" from vladimir putin . officials were dismissive of it as a pr stunt, chest thumping by putin trying to show who is in charge that he's bag in the game and driving the agenda because they say that he and lavrov have acknowledged the use of weapons by the assad regime and that's why they're in geneva to negotiate something and that they're not in total denial and that's exactly what you read in the op-ed of "the new york times" denying that the regime was denying anything that happened on august 31st and blaming the rebels, instead. this is a reality check and they want to test the russian resolve and russian seriousness and see if it's possible to come up with an agreement. they brought with them dozens and dozens of experts and weapons and intelligence experts to put the american cards on the table and say this is what we know assad has in his stockpiles and at the same time the the russians are coming with their teams and the expectation, the hope is that they will be as direct and as honest and at least beginning to exchange intelligence and information and that would be the beginning of trust. no agreements are expected here, but just a declaration that they will take the next step forward . thomas ?

>> andrea, thanks so much. a programming note for everybody, that " andrea mitchell reports" will be airing live at 1:00 p.m . from geneva on msnbc and she'll have more on the visit there.

>>> the battle rages on inside syria. nbc news has confirmed media reports out today that cia shipments of weapons have begun to reach syrian rebels, however, sources tell us it's unlikely those shipments will help tilt the balance and one official tells msnbc that the rebels need to turn the tide are missile strikes. republican senator jim rich of idaho is a number of the foreign relations committee who voted against taking military action and it's good to have you here? thank you.

>> let's talk about the arming. should the u.s. be arming the rebels right now given that we don't know who is friend or foe and what if that's not the answer, what is?

>> first of all, there's been a lot of talk about arming the rebels. the difficulty is there's about 100,000 fighters there and they're fragmented there into a vast array of the kinds of people that engage in these sort of things and there are some people that we want to see take over the syrian government and the so-called moderates and there are very bad people that are involved in this also and you're always worried that when you're giving out arms, aid or what have you that you're emboldening people and helping people that may not be friendly to us in the long run.

>> sir, i want to go back to talk about your reaction to putin 's op-ed and specifically the part that he takes issue of what he calls american exceptionalism . in this op-ed he says it is extremely dangerous to see themselves as exceptional whatever the motivation. when you heard what was written and taking the president to task for reminding everyone on tuesday night about american exceptionalism , what's your reaction to that? does this shake your core about how we can trust putin and whatever credibility he has that he's brought to the table on this that he'll really be an honest broker through it?

>> well, this is another bizarre chapter in what's been a bizarre scenario from the beginning. is this what it's come to with the head of another large country communicating instead of through the usual, delicate, diplomatic channels and instead writing op-eds? it's ludicrous. i've been a vocal opponent of how president obama has handled this thing from the beginning, but if putin thinks he's going somehow move me to his view or what have you that we are not exceptional people, that's absolutely laughable. look, this is the former head of the kgb. i said on the intelligence committee i've seen the intelligence. i know who did this and for him to be trying to tell us that it wasn't the administration, that it wasn't assad 's troops that did this is absolutely laughable. so, you know, it's just bizarre. the whole thing is just bizarre. this isn't the way diplomacy should be done. at the end of the day we need to set all of that stuff aside and focus on how can we do what needs to be done and that is get a hold of this thousand tons of chemical weapons and that's what everybody needs to focus on. stop the rhetoric and stop the pushing and shoving and let's try to get that done.

>> it certainly is an expectation of americans, anyway, for our elected leadership to circle the wagon, so to speak in washington, d.c. and there was this morning the intelligence summit taking place in washington and mike rogers was speaking and referencing the nsa leaks and direct reference to edward snowden who now has temporary russian asylum and what that's meant for adversaries around the world. i just want to play a small part of it. take a look.

>> they a reason why putin decided to put an op-ed in "the new york times." he knows that america is on a feeding frenzy against itself and he would love to join in on the game.

>> sir, would you agree with that? do you think we are in a feeding frenzy on ourselves and it takes more fuel to the fire coming from d.c. when we have elected leaders talking about not trusting the president's judgment about what a syrian strike would mean?

>> well, you know, i would certainly put it in different terms. we are having a robust debate about what to do in a very serious and dangerous circumstance. we are debating that and that's what free people do and we have a vigorous press here that reports on all of that. nothing wrong with that at all and that's the way we should go forward. so i see nothing wrong with that at all and putin trying to inject himself in this is just absolutely laughable and bizarre.

>> it is kind of like the twilight zone . thank you, sir. appreciate your time today.