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 306.

    I absolutely HATE it when the news channels (BBC) show clips from Syria of crying women saying 'uk why don't you help us?' as if we have a moral responsibility. Why aren't these people saying 'Sweden, finland, Switzerland help us'? Nigeria please help us, Paraguay please help us. We the british people have been fooled before, not again, it's ok to be greedy and maybe think about your own people

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    Everyone is frustrated in this world, let the WW3 start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    There is no way out save the results from the UN experts, who visited the place ,came away with samples that are being analysed now. This hyping by Obama , Cameron and the likes has nothing to do Syria as such, but it is just for selfish geopolitical reasons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    Call me naive but I think the comments about the BBC warmongering are getting a bit tiring now and just an easy way to get up votes. It's been voted on, we're not going to war. The people have spoken and fortunately for once seem to have been listened to. You'd think this article was written by Cameron himself given how "biased" it apparently is, despite stating most of the G20 is against war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

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

    Not sure how often people have to make the point, but 'most likely' isn't irrefutable evidence. Someone thought it most likely a neighbour's dog dumped on their grass, until it turned out to be the nice little old lady from around the corner (her dog, not her)

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    What is the point of the UN when Dave tells us to ignore them. Hopefully come the general election voters will ignore Dave the Disaster. Does history teach them nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    We will not be dictated to by Russia. Economic sanctions should be taken against Russia and limited military action (tactical strikes) to quieten down their aggressive rhetoric.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    They're both protecting their own allies and interests in the region. I'd expect much the same stalemate if Russia proposed the bombing of Israeli assets in response to their numerous human rights violations. Bottom line is that while there is certain evidence of chemical weapon use there has been none presented to show who is responsible. Why doesn't Cameron 'get' that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    The so called superpowers are arguing about how many more they can kill and maim with their weapons not how many they can save , how disgusting a thought .

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    So Tony Blair says UK timid because of Iraq. Well we all know whose responsible for that don't we Tony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    Cameron couldn't run a bath, let alone this country. Why does he think he's some sort of international big shot, the more so seeing as he is clearly Uncle Sams' poodle. And who starves here to find £52m aid??
    Obama - should have just kept his mouth shut. We can't bomb people to save his face.
    Putin - Seemingly more in touch with us than Cameron

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    This farce is being foisted upon us Americans constantly by our media, some party elites and the Obama Administration. No one I know wants to be involved in Syria -- even those that had supported Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    @243. Jiminy Cricket: 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.

    Nice wordplay, but it's probably wasted on most of these readers! ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    As Obama & Cameron will b well aware of the ability to 'twist' facts 2 aid in political intentions - Putin is no fool 2 c that Rebels may have done the deed - politics of any ilk is usually mixed with tainting and fact bending.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Obama=Pease, i'm going to lose face and look a right PLONKA RODNEY. Cameron just the same. All vying for oil and a pop at the mick. Big problem chummy camyshimshamy, we ain't drugged up Americans, we Drunk drugged up brits, but we can handle our BEER. Oh to be treat like morons. May not have your sausage degree, but i got people to care for. My tribe. We all came from them. B4upicked the fights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Anyone who believes anything the yanks say is frankly an idiot.They have a rich history of lying and deceiving nations and their own people and i bet their big businesses are itching for a bombing campaign where they can make billions of pounds out of it, let's remember the yanks only do what is in their own interests, even obama said that the other day and making money is in their interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    Still desperately pushing the pro-war agenda BBC?

    Still no HYS or proper editorial on the latest abuse of power by GCHQ and the NSA?

    Some might say that your independence is now in question BBC, and that you're not acting according to the terms of your Charter. Shocking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    Cameron: "We've contracted out our foreign policy to the UN" - well, you've contracted everything else out in the UK, so why not???

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    Who is pulling the string for an intervention in Syria .Saudi Arabia by any chance. Comments were made by Kerry that an Arab country wants to pay for military action.I wonder who a Sunni country rich in oil ????..

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    This is nothing to do with humanitarianism towards the Syrian people but with the USA's desire for world domination. They even have an official policy called "full spectrum dominance"! The US gov cannot abide there to be any country out there who opposes them and their financial and military interests and won't stop until such regimes are defeated or turned into their poodle. Then there's AIPAC!!


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