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 366.

    There's no way the US can have a woring relationship with Assad if he wins after all they've said & done, The increased islamisation of the rebel forces means they're a very long way from being a natural US ally but there's at least a possibilty they might be able to have some kind of relationship with them if they win. From a US POV they're the slightly lesser of two evils

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    296.Seqenenre wrote:

    ...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

    ... Mostly true, except Russia is also supplying arms to Syria, therefore fuelling the conflict further. Both the US and Russia want Syria for their own ends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    I wonder if the better way to approach this might be to threaten the Assad regime with military intervention to push it to the negotiating table as one last attempt. The threat still needs to be real for this to work. I do believe it is not in the best interest of the Syrian people for either side to win, but to come to a negotiated solution and compromise. I think Ladhkar Brahimi agrees.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    As an American, everyone here I know is against intervention in Syria

    All Americans want to do is watch American football, drink beer and eat American or Canadian chicken processed in America
    (not Chinese chicken imported here which USDA just approved)

    Americans don't want anything to do w/ Syria-
    its just Obama who does

    We can't stop him

    Obama has turned into Frankenstein

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    I wouldn't usually side with Putin and Russia but on this issue ......

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    @324. MidwayBattle

    Open western democracies? Western countries are prostitutes run by oligarchs.

    Putin is a dictator right? Why? Because he passed some law stating foreign political entities have to register? It's the US that tries to destablize Russia from within, Chechnya, protests. I would have done the same thing. I spit on the US flag, disgusting country that I live in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    There's all this talk about military intervention but none as to what's going to happen after such an attack. If nothing changes then what, more bombs? If Assad falls we may have an Islamist Syria. If he doesn't fall what will have been achieved? More dead! The best we can all do is supply aid to the surrounding countries to support the refugees. Throwing bombs into the mix wont help one jot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    what Obama and other countries who are supporting war or military strike in Syria has their own interest, not chemical use reason, if so they should investigate who is responsible in using it, USA, France are the real evil, if you can remember they started supporting the opposition since, they have natural hatred for the Assad. its the USA which promote evil and they are Evil, but they pretend

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    "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."

    We do have a moral responsibliity, but u have to decode the BBC's propaganda. The crying women mean exactly what they say, but the BBC wants you to hear it as "why don't you bomb us?" Bombing won't help. Help is off the agenda, sadly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    I think we should bomb Syria now, last thing they expect, element of surprise and all that. Show those Liberal types in Tehran and Moscow a thing or two.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.


    Interesting, that you attack usa and Israel when it is Russia who has been supplying most weapons.

    Anyway despite Syria and Assad being a bunch of murderous tyrants I would not go near it. We should keep out and not waste another penny on these people.


  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Assad wouldn't use chemical weapons because he is afraid of the repercussions. Mind you, the rebels don't have the delivery capability and the most likely rocket launches were registered by satellite from Assad controlled areas. Most likely culprits are Hezbollah. So its OK if Assad has lost a bit of control of his mercenaries. Wonder what they'll do next?

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    Will Obama launch a punitive attack (possibly killing innocents) to save his own face?

    Here is a test for a man, who values his moral integrity & is a recipient of a peace prize.

    I would bet his staff are working overtime to find a way out of the hole he has dug for himself (abeit with the help of the Israelis & Saudis).

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    We are witnessing the unravelling of Obama's presidency - of Obama's public persona, even. As the first post-modern president, Obama was wedded to the fallacy that words and intentions create reality - he has now learned that rhetoric fails before the brick walls of the real world. He is pleased to talk to adoring crowds to reminisce on MLK, but he can't handle Putin & Assad. Tragi-comic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    Did anyone ever really expect Oba and Ras to reach a common ground and come out with positive lines of action for the International Community to feel inclined to walk the walk with? Thought not. And nothing will be done to help Ali and Gaye Syrian whilst the various evil factions aligned to both sides exploit the mayhem to settle scores and plunder opportunities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Boycott all Russian goods: vodka, bear traps, fur hats and Chelsea football club.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Despite their endless bleating about "evidence based policy" it is clear that our "leaders" & politicians really don't have the faintest idea what Empirical Evidence actually is.

    John Kerry saying that "we have evidence" is not, in itself, evidence.

    Produce proof that Assad regime launched a chemical attack, so we can make up our own minds, or we'll safely assume that no such evidence exists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    Does this mean we can expect Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the UK to join in this fight or is the US picking up this tab alone again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    5 Minutes ago

    Only taking issue when the side he doesn't like uses Chems"

    I'm yet to see any evidence they did. He says he has evidence, but his refusal to show Putin speaks volumes.

    There's still a very good chance the rebels did it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Obama is like a stray dog, who ever he want, he can bite..


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