President Obama sat down for a 45-minute interview with Charlie Rose, which aired Monday night.
Below are the highlights, pulled from a transcript of the interview provided to Post Politics:
1. On NSA surveillance programs:
"But I think it’s fair to say that there're going to be folks on the left [criticizing me]. And what amuses me is now folks on the right who are fine when there’s a Republican president, but now, Obama’s coming in with the black helicopters."
Some people say, 'Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he's, you know, Dick Cheney.' Dick Cheney sometimes says, 'Yeah, you know? He took [the Bush-Cheney approach] all lock, stock and barrel.” My concern has always been not that we shouldn't do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances."
"...They'll say ... when you start looking at metadata, even if you don't know the names, you can match it up ... and you can yield all this information. All of that is true, except for the fact that for the government, under the program right now, to do that it would be illegal. We would not be allowed to do that."
4. On his conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping about alleged cyberattacks by the Chinese:
"We had a very blunt conversation about cybersecurity. ... You know, when you’re having a conversation like this, I don’t think you ever expect a Chinese leader to say, you know what, 'You’re right. You’ve caught us red-handed.'"
5. On similarities between Iraq 2003 and Syria 2013:
"Now, on the other side there are folks who say, you know, 'We are so scarred from Iraq. We should have learned our lesson. We should not have anything to do with it.' Well, I reject that view as well because the fact of the matter is that we've got serious interests there. And not only humanitarian interests; we can't have the situation of ongoing chaos in a major country that borders a country like Jordan which in turn borders Israel. And we have a legitimate need to be engaged and to be involved."
6. On arming Syrian rebels:
"And one of the challenges that we have is that some of the most effective fighters within the opposition have been those who frankly are not particularly [friendly] towards the United States of America, and arming them willy-nilly is not a good recipe for meeting American interests over the long term."
"...This argument that somehow we had gone in earlier or heavier in some fashion, that the tragedy and chaos taking place in Syria wouldn’t be taking place, I think is wrong. ... The fact of the matter is, the way these situations get resolved is politically. And the people who are being suppressed inside of Syria who develop into a military opposition -- these folks are carpenters and blacksmiths and dentists. These aren’t professional fighters. The notion that there was some professional military inside of Syria for us to immediately support a year ago or two years ago [is wrong]."
8. On Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:
"But what's been clear is that Assad, at this point -- in part because of his support from Iran and from Russia -- believes that he does not have to engage in a political transition, believes that he can continue to simply violently suppress over half of the population. And as long as he’s got that mind-set, it’s going to be very difficult to resolve the situation there."
9. On negotiating with new Iranian president-elect Hassan Rouhani, and whether Obama would insist on preconditions:
"I do think that there's a possibility that they decide -- the Iranians decide to take us up on our offer to engage in a more serious substantive way. ... I think that my general view is, we are open to discussions -- both through the P5+1 and through potential bilateral channels -- and we recognize that you're not going to solve problems all upfront, as a precondition for talks."