Obama hopes Putin will change mind over Syria

Russian president warns US against military action in Syria, stating Russia would ‘react’

US president Barack Obama pauses while speaking about Syria during a joint news conference with Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt  in Stockholm today. Photograph: Reuters

US president Barack Obama pauses while speaking about Syria during a joint news conference with Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in Stockholm today. Photograph: Reuters

Wed, Sep 4, 2013, 16:50

President Barack Obama said today he hoped Russian president Vladimir Putin would change his position of opposing military action against military targets in Syria.

“Do I hold out hope that Mr Putin may change his position on some of these issues? I’m always hopeful, and I will continue to engage him,” Mr Obama told a news conference in Sweden.

Mr Obama added he had made appeals directly to Mr Putin on Syria, but so far he had resisted efforts to achieve UN Security Council action.

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Earlier Mr Putin warned the US against launching military action in Syria, stating that Russia had “plans” on how it would react if such a scenario unfolded.

In an interview with Russia’s state Channel 1 television, Mr Putin said it was too early to talk about what Russia would do if the US attacked Syria but added: “We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it in case the situation develops toward the use of force or otherwise. We have our plans.”

US senators will begin a series of votes this afternoon to authorise a 90-day window for US military action against Syria, as the Obama administration’s campaign to win over sceptics in Congress gained momentum.

A new draft resolution was agreed by leaders of the Senate foreign relations committee after secretary of state John Kerry pressed a forceful case for striking against the Assad regime.

Earlier, Mr Obama secured the backing of the Republican leadership at a key White House meeting.

Using a visit to Sweden to build his case for limited military action against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Mr Obama insisted that the international community could not remain silent in the face of the “barbarism” of the August 21st chemical weapons attack he blamed on Syrian government forces.

“My credibility is not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line,” Mr Obama told a news conference in Stockholm.

“And America and Congress’ credibility is on the line, because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.”

Just a day before he travels to St. Petersburg to attend a G20 summit hosted by Mr Putin, Mr Obama said he held out hope that the Russian president would back away from his support for Dr Assad.

Mr Obama’s comments came after Mr Putin offered a glimpse of potential international compromise over Syria today by declining to entirely rule out Russian backing for military action as he prepared to host a summit of world leaders.

At the same time, Mr Putin said any strike on Syria would be illegal without UN support.

Mr Obama has taken a big political gamble by delaying military action in Syria and instead trying to convince a divided US Congress to grant authorization for a strike on government targets in Syria.

Aides say that even as Mr Obama travels he will stay on top of the congressional debate raging back in Washington, where his national security team has waged an intensive campaign to ease the concerns of reluctant lawmakers and a war-weary American public.

Earlier today Senator John McCain, a leading Republican voice on military affairs, said he does not support a Senate panel’s draft resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria.

“There are a number of people who are unhappy,” Mr McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee draft was narrower than the request made by President Barack Obama, and the panel, of which Mr McCain is a member, may vote on it later today. Mr McCain has long favoured US intervention in the Syrian civil war.

While declaring that he believes Congress will give him approval, Mr Obama ratcheted up the pressure for swift legislative action, saying inaction could embolden Dr Assad to carry out further attacks.

“The question is how credible is Congress when it passes a treaty saying we have to forbid the use of chemical weapons,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama declined to say whether he would proceed with a military strike even if Congress rejected the plan.

But he said he was not required by law to put the matter before Congress and made clear he reserves the right to act to protect US national security.

Mr Obama will fly to St Petersburg tomorrow to take part in an annual two-day summit of the Group of 20 leading economies, a gathering sure to be dominated by tensions over Syria.

Mr Obama’s three-day foreign trip offers a chance to lobby world leaders for their support and possibly shore up a shaky international coalition against Syria.

Any attack on Syria is likely on hold until at least next week, the earliest timeframe for a vote by lawmakers, who formally reconvene on September 9th after their summer break.

Mr Obama faces a tough fight in Congress for endorsement of military action over what Washington says was the killing of 1,400 people in a chemical weapons attack carried out by Dr Assad’s forces.

Agencies