White House sees ‘irony’ in Putin’s New York Times column

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during his meeting with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow September 12, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin proved an important point about “American exceptionalism” when he took a shot at the concept in his column in the New York Times, the White House said on Thursday.

In the opinion piece, Putin lauded a Russian proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control and lectured the United States for what he said was a tendency to use “brute force” in world disputes.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Putin had availed himself of press freedoms that are suppressed in Russia and highlighted what he called the democratic values that help give the United States a unique role in the world.

“And I think it’s worth also pointing out that there’s a great irony in the placement of an op-ed like this because it reflects the truly exceptional tradition in this country of freedom of expression,” Carney told reporters.

“And that is not a tradition shared in Russia, by Russia. And it is a fact freedom of expression has been on the decrease over the past dozen or so years in Russia,” Carney said.

In the column, Putin painted himself as a peacemaker and criticized U.S. President Barack Obama for threatening military strikes against Syria.

Carney sidestepped questions about whether the column got under Obama’s skin but got in some digs of his own at Russia’s track record on human rights issues.

“The fact is that Russia offers a stark contrast that demonstrates why America is exceptional. Unlike Russia, the United States stands up for democratic values and human rights in our own country and around the world,” he said.

Carney said the column showed that Putin had put his credibility on the line with high-stakes talks on Syria’s chemical weapons that began on Thursday in Geneva.

If the talks are successful, Russia and the United States would share the credit, Carney said, noting that the White House is “sober” about the challenges of reaching a deal.

“We’re a long way from there,” he said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jim Loney)