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G-20 ends with rift on Syria widening

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Barack Obama are no closer to agreeing on a military intervention in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Barack Obama are no closer to agreeing on a military intervention in Syria. Putin said on Friday talks had been “constructive”, but neither had conceded ground.

Speaking at the close of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Putin said it would be “counter-productive to destabilize” the situation in Syria with military intervention. His comments came in direct contrast to those made by Obama soon after, who again trumpeted the need for action.

“Syria’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens its neighbors,” Obama said.
“… Failing to respond to this breach of international norm would send a signal to world nations… that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction.”

Watch video 01:55

No Syria Solution in St Petersburg



But Obama refused to be drawn on his course of action should the US congress fail to approve strikes on Syria: "It would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate because right now I'm working to get as much support as possible out of Congress," he said.

While Putin said only the United States, Canada, France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey favored military intervention, Obama claimed the “majority” of leaders believed the responsibility of the attack laid at the feet of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

When posed the question of whether he and Obama had engaged in their own meaningful discussion on Syria, Putin said: "We spoke sitting down... it was a constructive, meaningful, cordial conversation. Each of us kept with our own opinion."

Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the president had told G-20 leaders that the US had "very high confidence" that Assad's government forces had launched a poison gas attack.

Obama put his case to Chinese President Xi Jinping in a private meeting on Friday. China, like Russia, has previously blocked action against Syria in the UN Security Council.

The United States continue to have a strong ally, in France.

“I have said on several occasions that countries have a responsibility and France is one of them, because we have the military capability to act," President Francois Hollande said after the end of the summit, but he also struck a cautions note.

“We will have to wait for the decision of the US Congress and Senate … and also the report of the UN inspectors. In light of all [that] … I will make a decision.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the prospects of a strike against Syria did not lessen the importance of the need for a political solution. Merkel said all 20 leaders had supported a political solution, even if there was disagreement on who was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack.

"All agree that a Geneva II would be helpful - even Turkey," Merkel said, referring to a peace conference in Geneva originally planned by the United States and Russia.

About a third of Syria's pre-war population of 20.8 million has been displaced within Syria or has fled abroad.

According to US intelligence, 1,426 people living in a rebel-held area of Damascus were killed in the August 21 chemical weapons attack, which involved the use of sarin nerve gas. UN inspectors this week began laboratory analyses of samples taken at the site.

Awaiting the US President in Washington is a fractious debate in Congress over whether to authorize what Obama's administration has called "limited" military action.

ph/rg (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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