G20 summit ends without agreement on Syria
Putin rallies opposition to proposals for punitive action against Assad
World leaders left the G20 summit in St Petersburg today without reaching a consensus on Syria. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
US president Barack Obama prepares to speak at a news conference at the G20 Summit in St Petersburg in Russia today. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
US president Barack Obama resisted pressure to abandon plans for air strikes against Syria and enlisted the support of 10 fellow leaders for a “strong” response to a chemical weapons attack at the G20 summit today which left world leaders divided on the conflict but united behind a call to spur economic growth.
Mr Obama refused to blink after Russian president Vladimir Putin led a campaign to talk him out of military intervention at the two-day summit in St Petersburg.
He persuaded 10 other G20 nations to join the United States in signing a statement calling for a strong international response, although it fell short of supporting military strikes, underscoring the deep disagreements that dominated the summit.
The two leaders remained far apart on Syria after a 20-minute one-on-one talk on the sidelines of the summit, following a tense group discussion on the civil war over dinner last night.
“There has been a long discussion with a clear split in the group,” a G20 source said after the dinner in a Tsarist-era palace in Russia’s former imperial capital, St Petersburg.
Mr Putin said he and Mr Obama stood their ground and neither blinked but at least there was dialogue. “We hear one another, and understand the arguments but we don’t agree. I don’t agree with his arguments, he doesn’t agree with mine. But we hear them, try to analyse them,” he said.
China’s Xi Jinping also tried, unsuccessfully, to dissuade Mr Obama from military action. “A political solution is the only right way out for the Syrian crisis, and a military strike cannot solve the problem from the root,” Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying. “We expect certain countries to have a second thought before action.”
But 11 members of the group of 20 leading economies — including the UK — issued a joint statement, signed on the sidelines of the summit, declaring that: “The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability. We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.”
French president Francois Hollande said France will await conclusions by UN inspectors before deciding on any action. That could mean French involvement in any military strikes against Bashar al-Assad not being decided until close to the end of the month at the earliest.
At a news conference at the conclusion of the summit, Mr Obama said he will address the US nation about Syria next Tuesday as he seeks public and congressional authority for military action.
He said most leaders of the G20 countries agree that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is responsible for using poison gas against civilians as he tried to rally support at home and abroad for a military strike.
“I was elected to end wars, not start them,” Mr Obama said. “I’ve spent the last four and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people.