Syria crisis: Russia and US no closer


Mr Putin said a one-on-one meeting with Mr Obama had not changed his position on Syria

Speeches by key leaders at the end of the G20 summit in St Petersburg have laid bare the bitter divisions over possible military action in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin restated his opposition to any strike, saying it would destabilise the region.

US President Barack Obama said action was necessary in reaction to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

A joint statement from the US and 10 other nations called for a strong international response.

The US government accuses President Bashar al-Assad's forces of killing 1,429 people in a poison-gas attack in the Damascus suburbs on 21 August.

Mr Assad has blamed rebels for the attack.


After two days of talks, the most powerful countries in the world were still unable to speak with one voice on Syria. The French President Francois Hollande has been a stalwart supporter of taking action. UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have also both firmly been in favour of action on Syria, as have the Saudis, long opposed to President Assad.

But the G20 host, President Vladimir Putin, has proved a formidable opponent and his claim is that the balance of opinion was behind him. Among G20 nations, India, Argentina, South Africa and Russia's Security Council ally - China - are clearly against punitive strikes. Alongside them, others are also uneasy at military action without UN approval.

At his press conference, you could sense President Obama's emotion, exhaustion and frustration. For all the intense lobbying behind the scenes, where it seems David Cameron has been playing a key role, there is still more work to be done to build the international coalition that Mr Obama wants.

China and Russia, which have refused to agree to a UN Security Council resolution against Syria, insist any military action without the UN would be illegal.

Mr Putin said the discussions about Syria on Thursday evening had gone on well past midnight.

He added that he had had a one-to-one meeting with Mr Obama in which they had discussed Syria.

Both men had listened to the other's position but had not agreed, he said.

Mr Putin said he believed a majority of the populations in countries supporting military action were against it.

Meanwhile French President Francois Hollande, who has been a firm proponent of intervention, said he would await for a report from UN weapons inspectors before taking a decision on military action.

The inspectors' findings are not due to be made public until the week beginning 15 September - possibly even later.


Also speaking at the end of the summit, Mr Obama said there was a "unanimous" view that chemical weapons had been used in Syria.

Obama says he had a "candid and constructive conversation" with President Putin

He also said most leaders present at the summit thought it was most likely that the regime of Mr Assad was responsible.

Mr Obama argued action was required even when the Security Council was paralysed, as the international consensus against the use of chemical weapons had to be upheld.

However, Mr Putin described the use of chemical weapons as "a provocation on the part of the militants who are expecting to get support from outside".

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK had "made available additional evidence of cloth and soil samples which underline the now overwhelming picture of a war crime" on 21 August.

Mr Cameron said that, given the depth of international divisions, the "summit was never going to reach agreement".

Start Quote

To some, watching President Obama wrestling with difficult issues will make him a more authentic proponent of a tough choice. But it may not be the best frame of mind for a man who has to sell a plan like his whole reputation rests on it”

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But he added that if there were only a response to the crisis through the UN Security Council, that would mean the UK "contracting out its morality and foreign policy to the potential of a Russian veto".

While the UK, Canada and Turkey all support Mr Obama's call for action, the only leaders at the G20 meeting to commit to force in Syria are the US and France.

Correspondents in St Petersburg say opponents of US military intervention appear to far outnumber supporters within the G20.

A joint statement from the US, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the UK called for "a strong international response" over Syria.

Recognising that the UN Security Council had been paralysed over the issue, the statement added the "world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability".

What is the G20?

  • Formed in 1999, the "group of 20" comprises the 19 leading national economies, plus the EU
  • The 2008 financial crisis and the rapid rise of China, India and Brazil has led the G20 to replace the G8 as principal global economic forum
  • Leaders generally meet annually, with several other lower-level meetings each year

In his comments to reporters on Friday, Mr Obama did not make clear what he would do if the US Congress decided against military action in a vote expected next week.

A poll commissioned by the BBC and ABC News suggested more than one-third of Congress members were undecided whether or not to back military action - and a majority of those who had made a decision said they would vote against the president.

The US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said that the US had "exhausted the alternatives" to military action.

She said that according to American estimates, the 21 August attack had "barely put a dent" in Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

Aid pledges

Also on Friday, the UN appealed for more aid for people in Syria, and also for the estimated two million Syrians who have fled their country.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the BBC that donor countries should "look again" at their contributions and be "as generous as they can".

David Cameron: "This summit was never going to reach agreement on what action was needed on Syria"

Mr Cameron announced on Friday that some countries at the G20 had agreed measures to speed up the delivery of aid, including lifting bureaucratic obstacles such as custom rules.

He said earlier that the UK would give an additional £52m ($80m) in aid for Syria - much of it for medical training and equipment to help civilians targeted by chemical attacks.

However, correspondents point out that the delivery of aid is complicated by the need to negotiate with armed groups on the ground.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Syria, rebels have withdrawn after briefly entering an ancient Christian town north of Damascus, the main opposition alliance has said.

Free Syrian Army (FSA) units captured military positions outside Maaloula after heavy clashes with government forces and militiamen on Thursday.

Also on Friday, the US embassy in Lebanon said that it would be evacuating its non-essential staff.

The move was prompted by "threats to US mission facilities and personnel," a statement said. The US Consulate General in the Turkish city of Adana is also withdrawing non-essential staff.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Have to say I'm more with Putin than Obama - how is Syria a threat to the world? (think China & North Korea are more of a threat, but we aren't thinking of attacking them are we?) Yes - intervention will destabilise the region, like it did in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    But doing nothing seems to be wrong as well.

    More diplomacy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I think a more accurate news title should be 'majority of G20 states are agains US military intervention in Syria'

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    .@ Tchernobog
    3 Minutes ago
    Cameron's speech against the UN makes him a war criminal.
    Brains of a rocking horse, intellect of a flea

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    To my comrads on commentary what do you think is the best course of action?
    1. Military strike kill a few people and take Assad out?
    2. Nuke both Assad and the rebels
    3. Allow both parties to surrender or come clean as to who used the weapons?
    4.Everyone mind your own business and allow Syria to deal with their own issues?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Given that the USA did lie and fabricate a reason for a war in Iraq maybe the Russians are right to look at any argument with scepticism, David should now come home and try running this country its clear now other Statesmen are now laughing at him so he risks damaging this country's reputation still further he has no further reason to be involved

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    You can give Putin all the evidence in the world, but if Putin is not interested in truth, then we are all wasting our time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.


    Obama, well it's just embarrassing, watching the leader of the free world coming up with any excuse to blow things up.

    The emotional blackmail and ridiculous things he and Mrs Power have been saying are pathetic.

    If only this energy was directed towards a mature response to the situation.

    America is addicted to blowing things up.

    Putin, is wiser.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Sorry BBC you're defeated, give it up, we don't want another war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    The pity in all this of course is we have Obama and Putin, the USA and Russia, at odds over something that shouldn't concern either of them in the first place: a civil war in another country. It's another example of why nations should mind their own business in the first place. Indeed, Russia has more of a "right" here given their longstanding alliance with Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Assad's forces are numerically weak and cannot afford casualties. They have not progressed much in house-to-house fighting without Hezbollah. There is a good chance that they used chemical weapons to add force to their attacks. But I still want to see the report from the UN- the chemical signature of the agents, the nature of the delivery system, whether they are only available to the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    How is dropping more bombs on the country going to help anyone??
    How is Obama & Cameron warmongering going to help anyone?
    Why not wait for the UN report?
    How do we support in this War, when both sides are commiting atrocities?
    Why are we annoyed that 1500 died via a gas attack, yet killing over 100,000 via guns etc over the past 2yrs was fine?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Russia is very good at playing the 'if you can't prove it, it didn't happen' card. It is no surprise that the 2 biggest totalitarian regimes in the world - Russia and China are supporting Herr Assad. It's time the US had a satellite in position over Syria to monitor all rocket launches and thereby prove who is guilt here. In the meantime - trade sanctions against R and C - yeh, what a laugh!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    With both the UK and US having a negative attitude towards resolving the civil war in Syria, i.e. the only way to solve the problem is to bomb innocent Syrians, we will end up doing what happened in Iraq.
    The UK and US should be seeking agreement at the UN to resolve the civil war in Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    20. Blood Jon
    What's the point of having the UN if Obama and Cameron wants to ignore them? Bleeding warmongers.
    Whats the point of UN if Putin can veto any resolution? Basically you can only intervene in countries neither the US, Russia, UK, France or China have any interest in....and because they're not interested no one WANTS to intervene! The UN doesn't work and never has.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Syria Plea Woman OWNS John McCain At Town Hall:

    US (5 star General) Wesley Clark: Wars Were Planned - Seven Countries In Five years:

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Milliband and Putin, the media's enemies once more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Did anyone really think that Russia was going to give up one of its few ally's in the Middle East as easily as Obama and Cameron would have liked? This civil war is just going to go on and on, particularly if the Rebels win.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I cannot for the life of me see how launching a load of cruise missiles helps anybody apart fron the American arms sales. I also see the "ironically named Middle East Peace Envoy" aka Blair has popped up. That man is an absolute menace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Watching Obama's post summit press conference

    Cheap shot about helping the British when London was being bombed

    The US didn't intervene militarily when London was being bombed in 1940

    The US helped the UK with military supplies, which we paid for using US loans, which we paid back & handing over UK overseas territories to the US.

    The US only joined the war fully in 41 after they were bombed

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I agree with Matt Drudge. Putin is now the leader of the free world. US is reduced to a spoiled war mongering mad state bent to dismantle international law and start a World War.

    Alqaida in Syria did the false flag gas attack with help of its friends in Saudi & US. CIA released documents last month showing that US was helping Saddam gas Iranians and Kurds in 80's. Putin is a saint by comparison.


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