WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin's claim that Syrian rebels were responsible for an Aug. 21 chemical gas attack but, in an interview broadcast on Sunday, he welcomed Putin's diplomatic role in the crisis.
Obama, in an interview on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopolous," defended his handling of the Syria crisis and dismissed criticism of his zig-zag approach to the issue as an argument about style.
Obama also said he and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had exchanged letters about the situation in Syria and that the Iranians understand the US concern about a potential nuclear-armed Iran "is a far larger issue" for the United States.
Obama and Putin have become unlikely allies on Syria after US threats to launch a military strike against Syria over the chemical weapons attack prompted a diplomatic initiative that has led to a framework deal on Saturday aimed at gaining control of Syria's poison gas stockpiles.
Obama said he welcomed Putin's involvement as helpful and said any deal on Syria must include a verifiable way to ensure that it gives up all its chemical weapons capacity.
"I think there's a way for Mr. Putin, despite me and him having a whole lot of differences, to play an important role in that," Obama said. "And so I welcome him being involved. I welcome him saying, 'I will take responsibility for pushing my client, the Assad regime, to deal with these chemical weapons.'"
But Obama dismissed Putin's charge that it was the Syrian rebels who launched the chemical weapons attack, instead of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as Washington believes.
"Well, nobody around the world takes seriously the idea that the rebels were the perpetrators of this," Obama said.
Washington says the attacked killed more than 1,400 civilians.
Obama's response to the crisis in Syria has received mixed reviews from the American people. A Reuters-Ipsos poll last week found only 35 per cent of Americans were satisfied with how he was handling the situation.