Thursday, May 24, 2018
News Roundup

Obama opposed on Syria at G-20 summit

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — President Barack Obama pressed world leaders Thursday to support a U.S.-led strike on Syria, but he ran into opposition from Russia, China and even the European Union — which condemned the deadly recent chemical weapons attack in Bashar Assad's country but declared it too soon for military action.

"The use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only a tragedy but also a violation of international law that must be addressed," Obama insisted during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit, where he mostly made his case behind the scenes.

China's G-20 delegation spokesman, Qin Gang, was among those who countered, saying: "War isn't the fundamental way to solve problems in Syria."

Obama's public and private diplomatic wrangling partly was intended to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers back in Washington as they debate authorizing military action. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a use-of-force resolution this week, but the measure's prospects in the full Senate and the House of Representatives are uncertain.

The prospect of military action against Syria overshadowed the global growth agenda at the two-day G-20 summit, which opened Thursday in this historic Russian city on the Baltic Sea. Leaders did, however, hold a lengthy discussion about the crisis during a four-hour dinner hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Syria's strongest backers.

White House advisers said Obama was seeking "political and diplomatic" support from his international counterparts, not necessarily military cooperation.

While Obama has long called for the ouster of Assad, a deadly chemical weapons attack near Damascus two weeks ago pushed the U.S. to the brink of military action for the first time during Syria's civil war. The U.S. position on Syria has increased tensions with Putin, one of Assad's most important economic and military backers. Putin has blocked efforts at the United Nations to take action and has questioned intelligence reports American officials say link the chemical weapon deployment to the Syrian leader.

The G-20 meeting put on full display the increasingly awkward and tense relationship between Obama and Putin. To protest Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed secret programs, Obama last month canceled a separate one-on-one meeting in Moscow.

As he arrived at Constantine Palace, Obama was greeted by Putin, and the two shook hands and smiled in a businesslike if not warm encounter lasting about 15 seconds.

At the opening session they sat separated by the leaders of Australia and Indonesia, with nothing to say to each other as long as the cameras were on.

In keeping with the economic theme of the meeting, Chinese officials said military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, particularly oil prices.

The European Union also was skeptical about the effectiveness of military action. EU President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters in St. Petersburg that the August chemical weapons attack "was a blatant violation of international law and a crime against humanity," but he said a political, not military, solution was needed in Syria.

The United States, too, backs a political resolution in Syria, but has largely given up on efforts at the U.N., where Russia has blocked Security Council efforts to punish Assad.

At the U.N. on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said, "Russia continues to hold the (Security) Council hostage and shirks its international responsibilities."

With one eye on Washington, Obama on Thursday lobbied lawmakers from afar, and he canceled a planned trip to California for next week to stay in Washington and make his case as votes near. Back home, his administration continued its full-scale sales job with another round of closed-door meetings for lawmakers about intelligence on Syria.

In other developments:

• British Prime Minister David Cameron said the United Kingdom had fresh evidence that was being examined at British laboratories.

• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner declined invitations to meet with a planned delegation of Russian lawmakers.

• Pope Francis urged the Group of 20 leaders to abandon the "futile pursuit" of a military solution in Syria as the Vatican laid out its case for a negotiated settlement that guarantees rights for all Syrians.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

     
 
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