Finding common ground with Russia

President Obama grinned broadly and nodded encouragingly towards President Putin.

Russia's president fidgeted, looked awkward and moved his neck oddly, his body language screaming that he would be rather be anywhere else than at this summit.

That's not surprising. He is the odd man out in this curious club. The G8 is really the biggest of what used to be called the Western powers, plus Russia.

The meeting between Presidents Obama and Putin appeared tense at times

The old enemy was allowed club membership in 1997, in a burst of post-Cold War magnanimity. Now it's all a bit of a nonsense.

Without China, or India and Brazil for that matter, this is not a group of the most powerful economies in the world. Nor, because of Mr Putin's presence, is it a gathering of like-minded allies.

But his resolution over Syria only highlights the lack of a plan from the US and its friends.

The Russian president has made it clear that as far as he is concerned his country is behaving perfectly normally, within the ordinary rules of international behaviour, backing, and arming what he sees as the legitimate government of Syria.

He is willing to sell them the most up-to-date and hi-tech kit. On the other hand America, the UK and France want a particular subset of rebels to win, and believes morally it should be allowed to arm them. But, for fear of the rebels they don't like, they are queasy about providing anything too advanced.

It is likely that rather than be isolated, President Putin will sign up to some sort of plan.

From what I have heard of the five point agreement that's on the table, it is so bland that it risks being dismissed as worthless.

But perhaps it is not quite without merit. Any international agreement that makes a Syrian peace conference more likely has some value.

But the big sticking point remains - is this peace conference post-Assad, as the rebels and the US demand, or is Assad part of the solution as Russia and the Syrian government insist?

President Obama, in a late night interview, has broken his five-day silence on his shift towards giving military help to the rebels.

As we suspected all along, he seems deeply uncomfortable with his own policy.

He said that the US had a legitimate interest and could not allow chaos in Syria, but it was "very easy to slip-slide your way into deeper and deeper commitments", adding: "If it's not working immediately, then what ends up happening is six months from now people say, 'Well, you gave the heavy artillery; now what we really need is X, and now what we really need is Y.' Because until Assad is defeated, in this view, it's never going to be enough, right?"

Right. That is the dilemma of those in the West who want President Assad to go. They have to decide which is worse - living with chaos and potentially the outcome they don't want, or greater entanglement in a region which teaches that such interventions have unexpected and unwelcome consequences.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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