Superpowers strive to gain upper hand : Obama and Putin exchange barbs, before discussing how to combat Isis

September 30, 2015 7:07 pm

and Russian President laid out
sharply competing visions yesterday about how to tackle the ongoing
conflicts in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, with each blaming
the other for the region’s turmoil even as they signalled a willingness
to address it together.
In speeches to the United Nations General
Assembly less than two hours apart, each leader said he embraced a
foreign policy approach that respects international norms that are
essential to global stability. Later in the day, the two met privately
to hash out their differences and to see whether there was room for
co-operation. The closed-door session lasted more than an hour and a
half, ending just before Obama was scheduled to host a reception for
After the session, Putin left for Moscow. In brief
remarks to Russian reporters, he described relations between the two
countries as “regretfully at a rather low level” due to resistance
but said that “we now have an understanding that our work needs to be
strengthened, at least on the bilateral basis.

We are now thinking together on the creation of appropriate mechanisms”.
White House official said that while the meeting gave Obama “clarity on
their objectives”, the two sides continued to disagree on Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad’s role in the conflict and his future.
“objectives are to go after [Isis] and to support the Government”, the
official said. Administration officials have expressed concern that new
Russian deployments in Syria would bolster President Bashar al-Assad’s
fight against his opponents rather than degrade Isis (Islamic State).
his speech, Obama took direct aim at Russia’s military build-up in
Syria as well its support for Ukrainian separatists, saying, “We are
told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder, that it’s
the only way to stamp out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling.

“But I stand before you today believing in my core that we,
the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and
coercion. We cannot look backward. … And if we cannot work together
more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences.”
for his part, charged that attempts by Western nations to impose
democracy – including in Iraq and Libya – were responsible for upheaval
in the Middle East and North Africa. While people in those regions
clearly wanted and deserved change, “the export of revolutions, this
time so-called democratic ones”, he said, had resulted in “violence and
social disaster” instead of a “triumph for democracy”.
Then Putin
had a question. “I cannot help asking those who have forced this
situation, do you realise now what you have done?” he said in remarks
that never mentioned but were clearly directed at the US. “Policies
based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity
have never been abandoned.”
Beyond the barbs, the two raised the
prospect of co-operating more closely on fighting Islamist terrorists
and brokering a political solution in Syria, where war has raged for 4
years. Obama and Putin – who opened their first extended, formal meeting
in two years with a stiff handshake before the cameras – remain divided
over Assad, whom Obama wants ousted and Putin continues to back.
is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and
Iran, to resolve the conflict,” Obama said in his 42-minute speech.
“But we must recognise that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so
much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo. … And so Assad and
his allies cannot simply pacify the broad majority of a population who
have been brutalised by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing.”
by contrast, insisted that “no one but Assad’s forces and militias are
truly fighting the Islamic State”. He said it would be an “enormous
mistake to refuse to co-operate with the Syrian Government and its armed
Russia has directly challenged US military and
diplomatic dominance in the region and the US-led coalition air campaign
against Isis. Over the past month, Putin has expanded Russia’s
long-running provision of weapons to Assad with deployments of tanks and
aircraft. Russia and Iraq announced that they would establish a rival
anti-militant coalition in Baghdad to include Iran and Syria.
his speech before UN delegates, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani echoed
Putin’s comments, saying that while the US was responsible for the
current tumult in the Middle East, his Government was willing to help
bring “democracy” to Syria.
Putin proposed creating a “broad
international coalition” that he compared to the “anti-Hitler coalition”
during World War II. Russia, the current chair of the UN Security
Council, has called for a meeting next month to discuss how to better
combat extremism. Moscow has also proposed a meeting among itself, the
US and the governments of Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt on
co-ordination over Syria.

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