Obama and Putin hold Syria talks


US president Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin today agreed on the need to end violence in Syria but showed no concrete signs of narrowing their differences on tougher sanctions against Damascus.

After a week of Cold War-style recriminations between US and Russian diplomats, the talks at a Group of 20 summit in Mexico tested whether the two leaders could forge a working relationship and find common ground on Syria and other festering disputes.

Mr Putin frowned and Mr Obama wore a sober expression during their remarks to reporters after the meeting. "We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war," Mr Obama told reporters, who entered the room after the talks went on for some two hours - longer than originally planned.

"From my point of view, we have found many common points on this issue [of Syria]," Mr Putin said, adding the two sides would continue discussions.

With Syrian president Bashar al-Assad continuing his bloody, 15-month crackdown on the opposition, Mr Obama and Western allies want veto-wielding Moscow to stop shielding him from further UN Security Council sanctions aimed at forcing him from power.

Mr Putin, a former KGB spymaster, is suspicious of US motives, however, especially after the Nato-assisted overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy last year, and he has offered little sign of softening his stance on Syria.

World leaders at the G20 summit are also set to increase pressure on Europe to outline a lasting strategy to save the euro currency after a victory for pro-bailout parties in a Greek election failed to calm financial markets.

Mr Obama spoke with European leaders after the Greek vote and requested a meeting with them this evening, underscoring the extent of concern in Washington that the euro crisis could deepen, infecting the fragile US economy only months before an election.

He will also hold separate talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who as the leader of Europe's biggest economy, faces enormous pressure to take bold new steps to resolve a crisis that has been raging for more than two years.

Protected by Mexican navy vessels and troops on the beaches and highways, Group of 20 leaders from major industrialised and developing economies, representing more than 80 per cent of world output, began a two-day meeting in the Pacific resort of Los Cabos, Mexico, to prioritise growth and job creation against the backdrop of a weakening global economy.