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 626.

    it seems that america is try to blackmail assad regim how can america will be saying that assad use chemical weapon agaisnt his own people that is a complete lie they always doing that each time they want to go to war they will made allegation on one side so that it will be easy to them to confuse the world that they are figth for people that is lie .ok everybody know chemic weapo use but who use

  • Comment number 625.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    Hezbollah have their army in Syria at the moment helping the Syrian government fight rebels. Hezbollah are a big threat to Israel (America's biggest ally in the Middle East). The USA's interests lie destroying Hezbollah with this window of opportunity to protect Israel which the US needs to keep their foothold in the Middle East.

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    Assad said that his scuds and nerve agents would eliminate hundreds of thousands of Syrians who oppose his regime. NATO has the right to launch a full-scale missile attack on his military installations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    It is telling that Camercon took no action when rebels were found with chemical weapons earlier this year. He is a disgrace to the UK on the international stage and should step down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    Keep out of it, STAY out of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    Interesting that the hand-wringing about chemical weapon attacks always refers to the killing of children, while not mentioning the men and women. Surprised there's no mention of puppies and kittens...

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    It's great to see someone not giving in to Obama and his upcoming attack on Syria. This obscene attack should never take place but will, tragically enough with thousands more Syrians needlessly dying. More people need to side with Vladimir Putin against Obama. Besides, I'm tired of seeing Obama get his way each and every time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    Why when Assad has Scuds/missiles/planes which can deliver chemical weapons does he choose to use basic rockets in this and previous "alleged" attacks ?

    These simple rockets can be launched from normal artillery guns , which both sides have.

    Why do American/French/British "intelligence" reports insist that the rebels do not have the 'capability' to launch C.Ws ?

    Ex Royal Artillery soldier

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    I would never have thought the US would sink that low. Using Saudi money to manufacture 'regime' change. Shame on Kerry and that vile McCain, al Qaeda's propaganda manager.

  • Comment number 616.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    @595. Knut Knutsen
    " building massive numbers of low quality pane, Tanks and Artillery."

    Anyone who calls the SU-27/Mig-29 a low quality plane has no idea what they are talking about. The first models of the T-72 were not great, but developed into something that now outperform the Abrams in every way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    "Credibility" says Obama. Now there's something to kill and to die for. Yes credibility of which the US had squandered all of its own with the likes of the drunken idiot George Bush and his transparent lies about Saddam. "Believe us we're the Good Guy" say Obama. Red Lines in the sand drawn only by Obama not "the world". "Let's do Syria" like Iraq and then "Lets do Iran too" all for Israel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    I think Russia will be a stumbling block to any further action in Syria by the Americans, this will mean many thousands of deaths in a long long war.

    It's a shame the USA and Russia cannot agree on intervening, we can all say no more wars but there is no alternative to breaking up this fight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    580.E Doyle.

    If you think supporting an illegal military strike that will kill civilians and make further chemical attacks more likely gives you the moral highground from which to judge others, many of whom are trying to get the gov‘t to do something constructive about this crisis, then you‘re a rather dangerous individual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    no other g20 issues reported. whilst the importance of the issue, they were not going to agree. I could not find reportage of things they actually agreed on such as corporate tax avoidance, that were potentially positive, probably farcical, but still..overshadowed was on yahoo 'news' even, which is only 2% news

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    The US are so bent on war because it's pre-planned:

    Wesley Clark (US 4 Star General) US will attack 7 countries in 5 years:

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.


  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    War against who? where will those bombs land? Its all innocent people and children who is going to suffer. Already have seen enough through previous wars..

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    Am I the only person that thinks war is preordained and that this is a sideshow?

    I thought the same of the Iraq war and the WMD debacle; the powers that be had made up their minds, they wanted the oil and they wanted the defense and reconstruction contracts.

    Now it might be for geopolitical reasons but it still reminds me of Iraq. They've made up their minds & we must live with the consequences.


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