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Obama: We Won't Turn Syria Into 'Proxy War' Between U.S. And Russia

President Obama said that he will not turn the situation in Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia.

During a press conference at the White House, Obama said that he rejected Russia's assumption that all of those groups who oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad are terrorists.

"We think that it's self defeating," he said. "And it will get Russia into a quagmire."

Obama spoke just days after Russia launched air attacks against targets in Syria. Russia had said it would target the Islamic State but moderate opposition forces said they were the ones being bombed.

Obama said he spoke to Putin and told him that he is willing to work with them to negotiate a political transition that removes Assad, from power and leaves the state and military institutions intact.

"We are prepared to work with him if he was willing to broker a political transition.... We can bring the rest of the world to a brokered solution," Obama said.

After he was asked if Russia had outmaneuvered him on Syria and Ukraine, Obama responded forcefully. The Russian economy is in shambles and Russia is isolated, Obama said.

"Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin's coalition," he said. "The rest of the world makes up our coalition."

Ultimately, Obama vowed to continue to support moderate opposition groups and to continue to push for regime change.

Obama touched on a number of other subjects during the press conference. On gun control he said: "The politics has to change."

Obama said that the United States is no more prone to violence than any other country.

"There's no sense that it's something in the American character that is creating this," he said. "It's not that the behaviors or the impulses are necessarily different as much as it is that they have access to more powerful weapons."

The American public, he said, has to be part of the solution by making sure that they vote for politicians who are in favor of "common-sense" gun laws like universal background checks.

On Pope Francis, Obama said: "Pope Francis, I love. He is a good man with a warm heart and a big moral imagination."

Obama said that people like the pope, who make "us uncomfortable in his gentle way — make him want to "be better" and "do better."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.