Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin clash over vision for resolving Syrian crisis

September 29, 2015 3:45 am

President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin
clashed over their competing visions for , with Obama urging a
political transition to replace the Syrian president but Putin warning
it would be a mistake to abandon the current government.
Obama
and Putin’s dueling speeches at a General Assembly summit
served as a public preview of their private meeting late Monday. The
sit-down marks their first face-to-face encounter in nearly a year and
comes amid escalating Russian military engagement in Syria.
Obama
said he was open to working with Russia, as well as Iran, to bring
Syria’s civil war to an end. He called for a “managed transition” that
would result in the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose
forces have clashed with rebels for more than four years, creating a
vacuum for the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

“We must recognize that there cannot be, after so much
bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo,” Obama
said.
Putin, however, urged the world to stick with Assad,
arguing that his military is the only viable option for defeating the
Islamic State.
“We believe it’s a huge mistake to refuse to
cooperate with the Syrian authorities, with the government forces, those
who are bravely fighting terror face-to-face,” Putin said.
Obama
and Putin’s disparate views of the grim situation in Syria left little
indication of how the two countries might work together to end a
conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people and resulted in a
flood of refugees.
Despite Obama’s staunch opposition to Assad
remaining in power, the U.S. has struggled to energize a political
process to push him from power. Russia has long been a major obstacle,
shielding Assad from U.N. sanctions and continuing to provide the Syrian
government with weapons.




In fact, Russia has appeared to deepen its support for
Assad in recent weeks, sending additional military equipment and troops
with the justification that it is helping the government fight the
Islamic State. The military buildup has confounded U.S. officials, who
spent the summer hoping Russia’s patience with Assad was waning and
political negotiations could be started.
While Putin didn’t call
out the U.S. by name, he criticized efforts to arm “moderate” rebels in
Syria, saying Western-backed fighters have later come to join the
Islamic State.
The U.S. has little to show for its efforts to
build a moderate Syrian ground force that can effectively fight the
extremists. A $500 million Pentagon program was supposed to train and
equip more than 5,000 fighters, but has instead successfully produced
only a handful.
Obama and Putin each framed his case for Syria’s
future in the context of a broader approach to the world, launching
veiled criticisms at each other.




The U.S. president criticized nations that believe “might
makes right,” and he sought instead to highlight the benefits of
diplomacy. He touted his administration’s efforts to restore ties with
Cuba after a half-century freeze and the completion of a nuclear accord
with Iran, noting that Russia was a key partner in negotiating the Iran
deal.
Putin, without naming the , accused Washington
of trying to enforce its will on others and mulling a possible reform
of the U.N., which he suggested stands in the way of the perceived U.S.
domination.
“After the end of the Cold War, the single center of
domination has emerged in the world,” Putin said. “Those who have found
themselves on top of that pyramid were tempted to think that since they
are so strong and singular, they know what to do better than others and
it’s unnecessary to pay any attention to the U.N.”

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