WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama made a stop in Sweden Wednesday before heading to the summit of the world's 20 major economies later this week in Russia. Syria is expected to be one of the main topics on the sidelines of the summit as President Obama seeks international support for a military strike on Damascus, in response to its alleged used of banned poisonous gas against the Syrian people.
Sweden's capital, Stockholm, has strengthened security ahead of Obama's arrival Wednesday. The Arctic, free trade and Syria are the likely topics of his talks with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
Before leaving for his three-day trip Tuesday evening, President Obama secured support for military action against Syria from top congressional leaders, and expressed confidence that Congress will pass his resolution authorizing a strike against Damascus. But Obama also wants international support for such an operation.
French President Francois Hollande already has promised his support. On Tuesday, he expressed hope that a broader consensus can be reached at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
"When a chemical massacre happens, when the world knows about it, when the evidence is provided, when the perpetrators are known to us, there has to be a response," he said. "The international community expects this response. And coming together - German president, French president - we express the same indignation, the same condemnation, and at the same time the same hope, that a political solution will be found for Syria.''
Hollande spoke to reporters after meeting with the German president, Joachim Gauck, in Paris.
"[German Chancellor] Angela Merkel considers that during upcoming meetings, for example at the G20, that it will be possible to come to an international agreement about the appropriate response as regards Syria,'' said Gauck.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon also will attend the summit in Russia's second largest city. He has warned against any military action in Syria before a U.N. team reports the results of its investigation conducted in a suburb of Damascus, where Syrian forces allegedly used chemical weapons August 21. Before heading for the summit, Ban also stressed that the use of such weapons would constitute a grave violation of international laws.
"We must put an end to the atrocities the Syrian people continue to suffer," he said. "We should avoid further militarization of the conflict and revitalize the search for a political settlement. I take note of the argument for action to prevent future uses of chemical weapons. At the same time, we must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate a political resolution of the conflict."
Syria has denied using chemical weapons, and its ally Russia, the summit's host, is expected to try to dissuade participants from joining a coalition for a strike on Syria.
While in Russia, Obama also is expected to meet a group of rights activists to discuss the country's controversial laws that critics say clamp down on freedoms and repress minorities, such as the opposition and gay and lesbian communities.