'Constructive' talks, but little headway on Syrian crisis

Story highlights

  • At least 64 are killed in Syria on Friday, an opposition group reports
  • Putin: Obama "doesn't agree with me, I don't agree with him. But we listened to each other"
  • Obama says he and Putin had "candid, constructive" talks on the Syria crisis
  • State Department orders nonessential personnel to leave U.S. Embassy in Beirut
U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, held what each man described Friday as a "constructive" talk about Syria, though there's no indication it produced any breakthrough consensus.
What began as small talk after Putin approached Obama led to the two pulling up chairs in the corner of the room and talking almost entirely about Syria for 20 to 30 minutes, as other leaders watched, a senior Obama administration official said.
Afterward, Obama described the exchange on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Russia as "candid" -- but acknowledged that Putin was unlikely to support his call for military action against Syria.
Putin gave reporters a similar account, adding, "He doesn't agree with me, I don't agree with him, but we listened to each other."
Both leaders said they could work together to seek a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
The two men hold opposing views over whether military action should be taken against the Syrian government over its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people.
Obama is seeking to rally domestic and international support for a military strike, while Putin -- an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- has challenged the assertion that regime forces were behind the alleged chemical weapons attacks.
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Putin repeated the Syrian government's accusation that "militants" used chemical weapons in a bid to get aid and support from "those countries who support them."
He told reporters that Moscow will continue to provide Syria with arms and humanitarian aid.
He and Obama also talked about ways to solve the Syrian crisis peacefully, he said.
A statement issued Friday by a bare majority of the G20 -- 11 of its 20 members -- said that "the evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime."
"Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable," it said.
Obama said he believed most of the leaders at the G20 meeting were "comfortable with (the) conclusion that the Assad government was responsible" for using chemical weapons in an attack last month on a Damascus suburb.
But he said divisions arose over whether military action against Syria must be authorized by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has blocked action.
Citing Security Council "paralysis" on the issue, Obama said countries should be willing to act without the council's authorization.
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"If we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use, then an international response is required, and that will not come through Security Council action."
But he said he was encouraged by the discussions in St. Petersburg. "There's a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by," Obama said.
The U.S. president showed emotion as he talked of the gassing on August 21 of what his country estimates was more than 1,400 people in Syria, 400 of them children.
"This is not something we fabricated, this is not something we are using as an excuse for military action. ... I was elected to end wars, not start them," he said. "But we have to make hard choices when we stand up for things we care about."
Putin said the leaders in St. Petersburg were split nearly "50-50" over whether to intervene militarily.
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