UN Clash : Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin open talks on deep differences over Syria

September 29, 2015 4:14 am

With a stony-faced handshake, and Russian
President began their first formal meeting in more than
two years, a discussion expected to lay bare their deep differences over
the chaos in .
The meeting came hours after the leaders outlined their contrasting visions for Syria’s future in dueling speeches
at the General Assembly summit. Obama urged a political
transition to replace embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, while
Putin warned it would be a mistake to abandon the current government.
Obama and Putin were also expected to discuss the crisis in Ukraine during their meeting at U.N. headquarters.

United States President Barack Obama and Russia's President President Vladimir Putin. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama and ’s President President Vladimir Putin. Photo / AP

Ahead of their talks, 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 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 recognise 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 during his first
appearance at the U.N. gathering in a decade.
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.
The Syria crisis largely overshadowed the summit’s other discussions on peacekeeping, climate change and global poverty.
French
President Francois Hollande backed Obama’s call for Assad’s ouster,
saying “nobody can imagine” a political solution in Syria if he is still
in power. Hollande called on countries with influence in Syria,
including Gulf nations and Iran, to be engaged in a transition.
However,
Iran – which along with Russia is a strong backer of Assad – said the
Syrian president must remain in power to fight extremists. Iranian
President Hassan Rouhani said that while Syria’s government needs
reform, the country will fall to the Islamic States if the international
community makes getting rid of Assad its top goal.
Despite
Obama’s staunch opposition to Assad remaining in office, the U.S. has
struggled 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.

President Barack Obama speaks before the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama speaks before the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Photo / AP
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.
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 condemned nations that believe “might makes right,” and
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 United States, 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.

Russian President President Vladimir Putin addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Photo / AP
Russian President President Vladimir Putin addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Photo / AP
“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.
Obama and Putin
briefly shook hands during a leaders’ lunch that followed the morning
of speeches. Seated at the same table, they clinked glasses during a
toast, with Putin smiling and Obama grim-faced.
Obama and Putin
have long had a strained relationship, with ties deteriorating to
post-Cold War lows after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and
allegedly backed rebels in Ukraine’s east. The U.S. has sought to punish
Russia through economic sanctions.
Obama, in his address, said the world could not stand by while Ukraine’s sovereignty was being violated.
“If that happens without consequences in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today,” Obama said.

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