Formal encounter as Putin and Obama discuss Syria, Iran | News | DW | 19.06.2012
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Formal encounter as Putin and Obama discuss Syria, Iran

US President Barack Obama had his first meeting with Vladimir Putin as his Russian opposite number. While a cordial atmosphere was somewhat lacking, the pair made some conciliatory noises on the Middle East.

The encounter was described variously as "chilly" and having "hardly much eye contact or obvious kinship," but some points of shared interest were made apparent.

In the press conference that followed the talks, Obama spoke the longest of the two men, emphasizing areas on which the two former Cold War enemies could compromise.

The pair, seated on wicker chairs at a plush hotel in Los Cabos, Mexico, formally addressed one another as "Mr President."

Syria appeared to have dominated the discussions on the fringes of the G20 summit. The pair, Obama said, had "agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence; that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war and the kind of horrific events that we've seen over the last several weeks."

Putin, for his part, said the two had "been able to find many commonalities," without elucidating on the specifics.

In something of a departure from Washington's call for regime change in Damascus, Obama called for a political process that would halt violence.

No talk of Syrian leader

Russia has consistently refused to call for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, viewed as an important ally for Russia. Neither leader mention Assad by name.

Beyond Syria, the two leaders discussed diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis arising around Iran's nuclear program.

Obama said he emphasized a common approach, adding there was "still time and space to resolve diplomatically" concerns about nuclear weapons.

US officials played down the apparent frostiness, saying the formal, businesslike approach was simply Putin's style.

"That's the way he looks. That's the way he acts," said Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Russia.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the meeting had been "very open" and that it had not been confrontational.

rc/mr (AFP, Reuters, AP)