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Syria conflict likely to overshadow G-20 summit in Russia

The G-20 summit has begun in St. Petersburg. While the official agenda has outlined global economic issues, disputes over an impending US-led military intervention in Syria are likely to dominate the two-day event.

Despite the controversy surrounding the Syria issue, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the opening plenary session of the summit on Thursday that economic matters should take precedence.

"Some participants have asked me to give the time and possibility to discuss other ... very acute topics of international politics, in particular the situation around Syria," Putin told the leaders of the world's most important economies gathered for the summit.

"I suggest we do this during dinner so that we... in the first part can discuss the [economic] problems we have gathered here for and are key for the G20," he added.

Putin also warned it was "too early to engage in complacency," with economic recovery still at an early stage.

The meeting at the Constantine Palace outside of St. Petersburg in Russia ís expected to address a range of issues affecting both developed and developing nations: among other things, steps for preventing tax evasion and "shadow banking." Developing nations have, additionally, voiced concerns over the US Federal Reserve's intentions of ending a stimulus program, which could damage their own economies if not conducted in an orderly manner.

The countries represented at the summit account for two-thirds of the world's population and 90 percent of global gross domestic product and include the US, Russia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Japan.

Leaders' credibility 'on the line'

But ahead of the high-level talks, extraneous diplomatic issues - largely revolving around increasing animosity between the United States and host-country Russia - were expected to dominate the discussions.

A day before the G-20 summit, US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated their stances on military intervention in Syria.

Watch video 01:48

G20 summit likely to be dominated by Syria debate

"I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line," Obama told reporters at a press conference in Stockholm on Wednesday, referring to international law, which bans any use of chemical weapons. Obama's oft-used catch phrase "red line" also refers to any war crime that could trigger a US military intervention.

The US president supports a military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad based on evidence of an August chemical weapons attack near Damascus, which left 1,429 people dead, according to US figures. He has since gained the support of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, paving the way for a vote by Congress to authorize the use of military force once it reconvenes next week.

The credibility of the US and the international community were on the line, he added, "because [otherwise] we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important."

Relations between Obama and Putin have grown tense over the past year and have put any hope of agreement over Syria in jeopardy. Not only has Washington criticized Moscow over human rights issues, particularly a recent law which bans "gay propaganda," but ahead of the summit, the White House even went so far as to cancel a meeting between the two leaders, snubbing Putin for granting NSA-whistle-blower Edward Snowden asylum.

US must follow UN rules

Putin opposes military intervention against al-Assad, whose government remains a Russian ally. Putin has also voiced concerns over measures which could bolster al Qaeda's influence in the war-torn country, where the Islamist extremist group has already infilitrated parts of the opposition movement seeking to oust the Assad regime.

On Wednesday, the Russian president said proof of chemical weapons used on Syrian civilians would justify military action, but the US could not act without approval from the United Nations Security Council. The comment came during an interview on Russian television.

Germany, the United Kingdom and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continue to push for a political solution to the Syrian civil war, which has left over 100,000 people dead after nearly 18 months of fighting.

French President Francois Hollande has voiced his support for military action and appears prepared to stand alone in the international community as a likely partner in any US-led strike against Damascus.

kms/pfd (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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