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Obama on Russia, economy, Palin

What follows is a rough transcript of NBC News Chief White House Correspondent and Political Director Chuck Todd's interview with President Obama today from Russia. The president discusses who's really in charge in Russia, its influence on Iran, the economy, Sarah Palin -- even Michael Jackson and why he mentioned Capitols' star Alexander Ovechkin in his speech.

NBC'S CHUCK TODD: Mr. President, thanks.


TODD: So yesterday, when asked about who ran Russia... who's really in charge - Medvedev or Prime Minister Putin, you kind of dodged the question and you noted you hadn't met Prime Minister Putin. You've met him now. Has your answer changed about who runs Russia??

Video: NBC's Chuck Todd talks to President Obama about improving relations between the U.S. and Russia as well as the current state of the economy, Sarah Palin's resignation and Michael Jackson.

OBAMA: Well, my answer yesterday continues to be my belief, which is they've got a president, they've got a prime minister, both have significant roles in the government. They cooperate and work very closely together. They're political allies.

My suspicion is they consult with each other before they make significant decisions.

I have said publicly before that I have a favorable impression of President Medvedev. In interactions with me, he has been professional and straightforward. He's followed through on his commitments.

This morning I had my first meeting with President Putin - Prime Minister Putin... 
TODD: And you've done that three times... Freudian or not Freudian?

OBAMA: No, I don't think it's Freudian. He used to be president and so... my impression of the prime minster is that he is strong, he cares deeply about Russia, he has understandable concerns about Russia's role in the world and I think he has suspicions about the United States. He was very gracious in our meeting and suggested that he wanted to see additional cooperation.

TODD: Does he still have on foot in the Cold War past?

OBAMA: I think he would be the first to admit as somebody who grew up in soviet Russia. He's somebody who knows the pains and the hardships and difficulties of the Russian past and that still informs some of his views. But I will say this: I found him to be very smart and I found him to have a practical bent.

I think the one thing I suspect Prime Minster Putin would completely agree on is that he is not sentimental about how he views the world, and where there are common interests between the United States and Russia, my belief is that we can potentially pursue those common interests to the benefit of both countries.

TODD: on Iran, it's our understanding, your aides said to us it was your number one priority, your top priority. This is what you kept talking about both with Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev. Yet yesterday in public, President Medvedev couldn't even utter the word Iran, he kept referring to the Middle East. He almost bragged about not saying the name. Are you confident that Russia takes the Iranian threat as seriously as you do?

OBAMA: Well, I'm not sure that they see it exactly the same way. They've had an ongoing diplomatic relationship and commercial relationships with Iran for the last 30 years and we have not. So obviously they view Iran differently. Iran's also a neighbor of theirs.

Video: President Obama is in Russia meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to work out an agreement for the U.S. and Russia to cut nuclear stockpiles by the end of the year. Guest host Alison Stewart is joined by author Joe Cirincione.

I am persuaded that they do not want to see Iran possess a nuclear weapon, and I think they are concerned about the potentially destabilizing effect of the nuclear arms race in the Middle East and one of the things that we are going to need to explore jointly over the next several months is can we provide a door for Iran to walk through where they say that we are not going to develop a nuclear weapon.

And, you know, Russia can be a very important partner in that process and so you know my hope is that they take not only the threat of nuclear proliferation seriously, which I think they do, but also recognize that this is something that would strengthen their relationship with the United States.

TODD: Do you think you still have some work though, to do to convince them that this is serious? Do you have diplomatic work to do?

OBAMA: Oh well I think that they understand its serious. But--

TODD: But do you have diplomatic work to do?

OBAMA: Understanding - we definitely have some diplomatic work to do because understanding that the situation is serious doesn't automatically translate into the kind of action that leads to the results that we'd like to see.

TODD: I want to move to economy, it's going to come up at the G-8 a little bit. I want to read some various phrases that you've used in your administration. Early on, when you took office, you said the economy was going to get worse before it gets better. Then Larry Summers said we hit bottom to a point. Then we started hearing the phrase green shoots. You predicted, though, higher unemployment. Vice President Biden over the weekend said the team misread the economy. And then yesterday, Prime Minister Brown was saying that the recession might get worse. So let's erase those words. What's the state of the economy? Is it getting better? Is it getting worse? Are there green shoots?

OBAMA: Here is my assessment and I think this assessment has been fairly consistent. We haven't always gotten the numbers right but I think the general overview is right. We went through an economic tsunami that was far worse than anything we've gone through since the Great Depression. And even early on I think we did not see the full magnitude of what was going to happen.

TODD: By the way, are you concerned you're not getting good data from your team or is this just a misread?

OBAMA: No, no, no, well I would actually rather than say misread we had incomplete information. We came in January 20th. It was only after the first quarter numbers came in if you recall that suddenly everybody looked and said the economy shrank six percent. So it was happening much more rapidly at an accelerated pace than the projections out there at the time. But just to focus on what has happened.

An economic tsunami hit. And there is a massive amount of damage that has been done. To the banking sectors, to individual homeowners, people's 401(k)s. A lot of wealth was removed out of the system and what we have successfully done is to staunch the bleeding.

In the finical sectors companies can go out and borrow. The rates are a little higher than that were but you've unfrozen those credit markets. You are seeing some recovery in some sectors of the housing market. So what you have is no longer the complete free fall that we had back in January or February.

TODD: So free fall, that idea was a correct assessment.

OBAMA: That has stopped.

TODD: And green shoots, that was a correct assessment?

OBAMA: Well what I would say is that in some areas you are seeing the economic engine turn. But what we always knew was that a. this recession was going to be deep b. it was going to last for a while and c. even when the economy pulls out of recession that you are going to see jobs emerging only at the end of that process rather than the beginning.

Now, this is my number one concern is how are we a. going to make sure that the people are getting back to work but b. how do we put the economy on a strong enough footing so that once we emerge out of the recession and the economy is actually on the uptick that it is creating the kinds of jobs and prosperity that we need. And that is why energy is so important, that why healthcare is so important, that's why improving out education system is so important.

That is why ultimately getting our fiscal house in order over the medium and long term is so important.

TODD: So I'm getting the, I better start moving along. I've got a whole round of quickies. You're a political junkie. Just give me your reaction to this Sarah Palin stuff.

OBAMA: Well I think a lot of people were surprised obviously she has generated a lot of attention. She has a fiercely loyal constituency within the Republican Party and in the conservative movement but she says that this is something that is best for her family and I respect that because--

TODD: She compares her leaving office to your leaving office early. Fair or unfair?

OBAMA: I'm sorry, I don't-

TODD: She compares the idea that she's leaving early as no different than your leaving your Senate seat early.

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think this is a decision she made and I respect her decision.

TODD: Al Sharpton has said Michael Jackson's imprint, sort of being able to crossover from a black audience to a white audience, helped pave the way for Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and you. Do you buy that argument?

OBAMA: You know, what I do believe is that black sports figures and black entertainers helped to create a comfort level with African Americans that had an impact historically dating back to people like Sidney Poitier or Louie Armstrong, up through Michael Jackson. So I would say that he's part of a long line of black entertainers that had an impact on the culture

TODD: I saw Gibbs give me this. We'll just do one last, you mentioned Ovechkin in there, our friend in Washington. Do you think should you have been transparent and said you've never been to a hockey game. Are you going to fix this?

OBAMA: Well, you know, the truth of the matter is that I have watched this guy play and he's outstanding. But you know, Chuck, I grew up in Hawaii, man.

TODD: Don't tell those Blackhawk fans that. You became of bulls fan!

OBAMA: Well, we had basketball in Hawaii. We didn't have hockey. I love watching hockey.

TODD: I'm a Miami boy. I hear you. We had the same thing. I'll really end. Thank you, sir.

OBAMA: Appreciate it. Thanks.