Obama, Putin meet at summit despite tensions over Syria

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Russian President Vladimir Putin holds out his arms as he walks past U.S. President Barack Obama (centre L) during a group photo at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg September 6, 2013. Photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters
President Barack Obama met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the midst of their dispute over how to respond to chemical weapons use in Syria.

In a Friday news conference, Obama said his conversation with Putin was "candid" and "constructive." But he added that he did not believe the talk would change Russia\’s opposition to any foreign military intervention in Syria. 
Obama is trying to win international support for military action to punish Syria\’s government for an alleged chemical attack that killed more than 1,400 people in August. The U.S. president said he would address the American people about the issue Tuesday night and continue to work with Congress on a resolution authorizing military action.
The president said most world leaders attending a G20 dinner, and discussions that continued into the early morning hours Friday, were "comfortable" with the U.S. conclusion that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack. He said the leaders were "unanimous" in believing that international norms against the use of chemical weapons had to be maintained. 
However, he said world powers were divided on launching military action without going through the United Nations Security Council.
Putin said any foreign strike on Syria would be "illegal." He said the chemical attack was a "provocation" by opposition fighters in Syria who are receiving foreign support. 
Putin said leaders from India, Indonesia, South Africa and India were among those who spoke against any military intervention at Thursday\’s G20 dinner.
Putin said he feared that going into Syria would hurt the global economy by raising the price of energy and stifling global economic development.
"In such a difficult time in general for the world economy, to destabilize the situation in the Middle East is counterproductive. That\’s at a minimum, I will say it very diplomatically."
China and Russia, have voted down Security Council resolutions that would have pressured the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Obama returns to Washington, on Friday, where he is seeking to convince U.S. lawmakers to authorize Syria military action.
A key U.S. Senate panel approved the plan Wednesday. But it now faces a tough vote in both houses of Congress, likely next week.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday warned world leaders against what he called "ill-considered" military strikes he said could worsen sectarian tensions in Syria. 
Ban made his comments at a humanitarian meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Warning against "further militarization of the conflict," Ban said military strikes could have "tragic consequences" and lead to further sectarian violence.
The secretary-general also raised Syria\’s crisis during talks with leaders from France, Germany and Turkey. 
The U.S. State Department has issued traveling warning for neighboring Lebanon and Turkey. The U.S. ordered non-emergency personnel and family members to leave embassies in both countries and has also warned U.S. citizens to avoid travel to the countries. 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Europe, on Friday, where he will continue the administration\’s efforts to get international support for possible action against Syria. His trip includes talks with Arab League and European Union officials.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, has said that no state can "take the law into their own hands" and conduct military action against Syria without prior UN Security Council approval.
Brahimi was speaking on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St Petersburg on Friday, after meetings with foreign ministers including Russia\’s Sergei Lavrov, who said many nations realise that striking Syria without Security Council backing would scuttle the chances of reaching a political solution.
Lavrov said that "a clear understanding is taking shape among many responsible states that the use of force, bypassing the Security Council, would essentially put an end to efforts to reach a political settlement and convene an international conference".
The remarks came as leaders at the summit continue to be sharply divided on the issue of whether to conduct military strikes against Syria after the alleged use of chemical weapons in Damascus suburbs by Syrian regime forces on August 21.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and the UN refugee agency says about one third of Syria\’s pre-war population of 20.8 million have fled their homes, either to other countries or safer areas within Syria. 
Source: Agencies

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