WASHINGTON — After months of caution, President Barack Obama suddenly is positioned more aggressively on Syria than the global leaders he's joining at a summit Monday, now that he has authorized weapons and ammunition shipments to struggling rebels.
Obama is expected to push Britain and France to take similar action when talks open in Northern Ireland among the Group of Eight leading industrial powers. The United States, Britain and France also will urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to drop his political and military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, still in power after more than two years of fighting.
"It's in Russia's interest to join us in applying pressure on Bashar Assad to come to the table in a way that relinquishes his power and his standing in Syria," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "We don't see any scenario where he restores his legitimacy to lead the country."
Obama and Putin plan separate talks on the sidelines of the summit, in what would be their first in-person meeting since Obama' re-election in November.
Russia analyst and Georgetown University professor Angela Stent said Putin probably will try to draw a distinction with Obama on Syria by portraying himself as a "guarantor of the absolute sovereignty of states."
"That may go down less well with the G-8 but has a broader appeal in the rest of the world," Stent said.
Also on the agenda for the two-day summit at a golf resort in Lough Erne are the global economy, a proposed U.S.-European Union trade agreement, and counterterrorism.
Obama will stop first in Belfast, where he will speak to young people about maintaining Northern Ireland's peace with its Irish neighbors. The president will cap his European trip with a visit to Germany for meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel and a speech at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
Questions about the global response to the Syrian civil war seem likely to dominate.