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Obama, Putin Agree to Disagree on Syria

  • Kent Klein

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013.

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin disagree on how they want the bloodshed in Syria to be resolved, but both say they want it resolved through negotiations. The two leaders met Monday on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland.

After their two-hour meeting, Presidents Obama and Putin emphasized that their fundamental positions on Syria have not changed. Mr. Putin continues to support the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, citing stability concerns, while Mr. Obama insists that no political settlement can include President Assad.

But the U.S. and Russian leaders said proposed talks in Geneva are necessary for a resolution. Mr. Putin said "And, of course, our thinkings do not coincide, but all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria, to stop the growth of victims, and to sow the situation peacefully, including by bringing the parties to the negotiation table in Geneva. We agreed to push the parties to the negotiation table."

Mr. Obama also acknowledged the differences with his Russian counterpart on Syria, but he said they agree on the need to defuse the situation.

"We do have different perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence, securing chemical weapons and ensuring that they are neither used nor are they subject to proliferation," he said.

Russian officials are skeptical about what the United States says is evidence that the Assad government is using chemical weapons on its people.

There were areas of agreement, however. Mr. Putin said he and Mr. Obama are optimistic that a new president in Iran could lead to an easing of Tehran's conflict with other countries about its nuclear program.

"I hope that after the elections in Iran there will be new opportunities to solve the Iranian nuclear problem," he said. "And we will be trying to do that bilaterally and in the international negotiations process."

The two leaders pledged to work together to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. Mr. Obama thanked Mr. Putin for Russia's cooperation in investigating April's bombing at the Boston Marathon, and he said the U.S. and Russia are poised to increase trade and investment.

There was not much personal warmth in evidence between the two presidents. Mr. Putin characterized their meeting as a "frank exchange of opinions," while Mr. Obama called it a "very useful conversation."

Earlier in the day, the G8 leaders announced that the first round of talks toward a massive transatlantic trade deal between the U.S. and the EU will start next month in Washington.

President Obama also invited Italy's new prime minister to visit Washington.

The G8 leaders conclude their summit with several meetings on Wednesday, and Mr. Obama will meet with French President Francois Hollande before he flies to Berlin to visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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