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”

End Quote

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 246.

    How can Cameron and Obama support the al Qaeda 'rebels'. Have they forgotten 9/11 and 7/7. Unbelievable.
    USA seem to have Forgotten they used chemical weapons in VIETNAM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    How dare Dave say the UN are indecisive, they want an another 3.3 billion, Baroness Amos says so. How much more decisive can you get?

    Problem is I don't think anyone has ever cast a vote in her general direction. So he may have a point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Take a look at HISTORY!

    Our christan forefathers was killing each other for unimportant facts or believes.

    So! All have rights to kill, if they believe so?

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    The Hoarse Lion roars at the Blustering Bear whilst the Belligerent Eagle flies overhead, oblivious to all and sundry (presque), dropping its excrement on only God knows where. As the spectators, we can cheer or boo, no matter, because the show must continue inexorably. Bring on the Cheshire Cat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour it was - Limited targeted bombing with no troops on the ground - 1941

    Look what THAT started...

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    USA is afflicted with a disease "American amnesia" where were they when Kurds were gassed, what action did they take when Iraq gassed Iranians, where were they when Rwanda massacre took place? Talk about moral equivalency USA would come in last.
    I am not condoning Assad, he has to go but then who will rule Syria? the opposition is so fractionalized and Al Qaida has taken full advantage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Anyone else think they are all acting like children?

    I mean c'mon:

    "UK is a small island" Think he meant a wet soggy island constantly under cloud.

    'We helped the British in WW2' Oh so its ok then and no um nope you didn't ref comment 28

    Obama - 'Candid Constructive Conversation with Putin'

    Putin: 'I don't agree with Obama.'

    BBC: Spinning everything they can

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.


    Top Top post ... The Woman has just summed up the mood!

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Stop Press;
    Chemical weapons were used.......
    The US found that
    Russia found that
    Good ol GB found that
    The French joined in regardless
    But who threw them ?
    The big guy ?
    The little guy ?
    Well I blame USA - coz they should have known better than to allow Syria to have them in the first place. World police ? Must try harder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    "As an American," 180: You should consider the very high probability of sarin canisters coming to an American neighborhood near you once their use goes unpunished & their potential for criminal mayhem gets some nasty folks interested in selling them to international crime syndicates. Have you heard of Victor Bout? Interesting biography. Interesting nexus of arms merchants, drug smugglers, hitmen&c

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    It's amazing all this so-called outrage about the UN Security Council being stymied. During the Cold War the UN was always stymied .While all five powers with the Veto continue to use it in there own interests , it will continue like that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Sadam's dead
    Bin Laden's dead
    Colonel Gaddafi's dead
    Kim Jong Il's dead
    Hosni Mubarak Ousted
    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad no longer in power

    yet none of the promises of freedom and democracy in the Middle East have been met. Nor have we rid the world of WMDs. What will change by ousting Assad? Peace of mind and a good night's sleep for Obama?

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Stay out of Syria. I wouldn't believe the evidence of WHO used the chemical weapons in any case.

    Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Iran. Just stay out. I don't trust the Americans or the Israelis

    I don't trust the Americans

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Just now
    @212 What proof? I haven't seen any. They are just making it up like the Americans.

    The report already at the UN regarding the chemical weapons used in March 2013 by the rebels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Putin is a fascist and has turned Russia into a intolerant society, he should not be listened to, the West ought to stand firm and boycott the winter Olympics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    900,000 were massacred in Rwanda while Clinton gave Lewinsky Cigars, what exacty has changed? Chemical warfare?, try Vietnam and Iraq where people were massacred and gassed with the support of the US government. The American public and i suspect its army are tired of being led into war by devious politicans no matter if they be Bush or Obama. PS Peace prize? FOR WHAT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    200. Macdoogal"So the answer has to be that we leave the UN if we feel it is no longer upholding it's own rules"
    So we should leave the UN because we don't like them anymore. We should leave the EU cos they interfere. Brits..a comical bunch of head up own backside idiots. Do you honestly believe that the rest of the world really give a flying fart what Britain thinks or does? Living in the past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Why is it that Mr Putin is talking common sense, and Mr Obama & co are sticking their heads in the sand over costly mistakes made when Iraq was invaded on spurious evidence that later turned out to be nothing but a lie? Until their is indisputable proof that one side or the other used chemical weapons, only diplomacy should be used. History has shown that Syrians fight each other all the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    @98 Great American, It's like this, Richard- for me anyway- Just because I oppose certain US actions doesn't mean I'm anti-American.

    WW2 could not have been won without the US. As a nation as a whole, the American people are the most generous on the planet.

    I'm afraid we Brits have come to a settled opinion that Blair lied on Iraq a

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Do we have any concrete evidence of who fired these dreadful weapons which would stand up in a proper court of law?

    No, I didn't think so. So why should anyone commit themselves to a war based on probabilities? Doesn't Britain and America have enough blood on their hands after Iraq to stop and actually ask for REAL evidence before blundering in again on some hung-ho adventure?


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