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 586.

    DavidinUSA re: UK aid.


  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    574. Cloud-Cuckoo. 'There is a third option; using the weapons inspectors again to go in and actually find the chemical weapons'

    Why? Assad admits he has them, just says he has not used them. If Russia is so against military intervention, why does it continue to arm the Assad regime with high tech weapons to use against its people and threaten its neighbours?

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.

    All the "free market" propagandists failed against BBC's reputation for fair reporting.
    Wow, you think so?
    Tell me more about how the BBC report on who the rebels truly are (think child executing, cannibalistic monsters in league with Al-Qaeda).

    Tell me more how the BBC has jumped up and down over the UN's allegations that the Rebel's used Sarin back in May? They wrote 1 piece. 1.

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    Obama and Putin. Leaders of two of the world's biggest military powers. You'd think they'd know what they are doing. Useless the pair of them. All the rhetoric, pomp and ceremony is rubbish. People are dying on their watch. They don't have a clue. The world should tell these leaders to come up with a roadmap for peace in Syria or quit and let someone else get on with the job.

  • Comment number 582.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 581.

    It's a pity that Syria's 'friends..' (aka Russia and China) couldn't put as much effort and drive into dissuading Assad's government from the path it has taken, as they do standing on the sidelines and throwing brickbats at the likes of France and USA for at least 'trying' to do something.

    Though, with a human rights records like they've got, it might be a somewhat hypocritical move.

  • rate this

    Comment number 580.

    572. The voice of Britain speaks aking us to ignore the chemical attacks and the slaughtered children. "Anyway it is now time for the football."
    Get a conscience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.


    "Assad said that he maintains scuds and nerve agents to kill hundreds of thousands of Syrians, if necessary. NATO has the right to launch a full-scale missile attack on his military installations"

    NATO has military installations with Biological, Chemical and Nuclear weapons so by your "logic" Syria, Iran & Russia has the "right" to launch a full-scale missile attack on us!

    Try thinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    If David Cameron finds democracy and the will of Parliament so unpalatable, then he knows what to do.


    When he speaks in support of military action, he speaks for no-one but himself ... and is rightly ignored by other leaders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    556. Koncerned
    "The REAL timeline of the US/Saudi/Isreali etc... plan for Syria. Next Iran"

    Oh. I now see the plan. When Syria and Iran are pacified, under this timetable, Israel will then "GIVE the Palestinians their own state"

    So, these was what Senator Kerry was doing in the 6 months he spent in Israel earlier this year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 576.

    US and "allies" are eager to go to war and "save" Syrians. But they are not that eager to help 2 million refugees with basic needs. This tells that these war mongers don't care really about people. They just want to have one of their puppets installed, even if that means Al-Qaeda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.

    Putin is oldskool. KGB and stuff. Still a man, bit like rambo of politics. He don't play chicken, this guy is from a tribe that don't flinch. He, like Baryo-is prepared to play the game of flinch. Baryo's name is on the cards, let me shoot across the bow,,,,Assad won't play dirty. He's been waring against insurgents for years with no help. Read up people, stop the wars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    The UN Security Council is only 'paralysed' if you accept that there are two options: bombing or doing nothing. There is a third option; using the weapons inspectors again to go in and actually find the chemical weapons.

    But this hasn't even been suggested. Anyone would think the US and the rest are frightened of what the UN might find in the way of weapons and where they came from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    "BBC has been the Government Propaganda machine since 1922.
    But you fools pay for your Propaganda LOL!"

    The BBC has the strongest brand recognition in the world as a broadcast news supplier.
    All the "free market" propagandists have failed against its reputation for fair reporting.
    As a Brit, It gives me unutterable pride to know that a tiny part of my license fee goes to the World Service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    @503 E Doyle ' Cameron ignore Parliament and get on with it both Syria and Russia.'

    Get a Life ...You may feel different then!

    I give up with people who are determined to cause misery by throwing bombs.
    Anyway it is now time for Football I hope congress votes to say No the World Already has

    and will we follow the US of a cliff ... I hope the answer is No !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    Didn't the Americans use gas on the Vietnamese in the 70's and made their kiddy's have three Arms?

    Don't like double standards, sorry!
    The British army used gas in world war 1 - so are you saying we can't be against chemical weapons now either?

  • rate this

    Comment number 570.

    "The al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra have attacked a regime-held, predominantly Christian village, from a mountaintop hotel, shelling the ancient community from there. A nun said the assault began around dawn today with a suicide bombing."
    Didn't Hague insist to the Al-Qaida linked chief Ahmad Al-Jarba that there are red-line districts not to touch?

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    Quick look "he is a bad man and must be stopped"

    But what ever you do dont search for nagasaki or hiroshima!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    We shouldn't bomb anybody. Syria hasn't crossed any borders, so has not started any war. A civil war is for the country waging it to sort out. Just feed the hungry, and treat the wounded. Syria will fade away as the population shrinks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    Action must be taken against those who use chemical weapons

    But how can these rebels, terrorists & religious nutters who commit these attrocities be punished?

    They invade villages then demand information, food & other 'home comforts' from homeowners then use them as human shields

    They have no morals & are often found killing each over the 'spoils of war'

    UK taxpayers are funding these animals!


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