Syria, Ukraine Top Obama-Putin Meeting Agenda

Syria, Ukraine Top Obama-Putin Meeting AgendaSyria, Ukraine Top Obama-Putin Meeting Agenda

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in New York this week at a time of high tension in Europe and the Middle East, but the Kremlin and the White House disagreed on Thursday over the top priority for the talks.

The White House insisted the meeting would focus on eastern Ukraine, however, Moscow said the main focus would be on Syria, where Russia has built up its military forces in recent weeks with combat aircraft, tanks and other equipment in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Reuters reported.  

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters, “Of course, the primary topic will be Syria.” Asked whether Ukraine would be discussed, he said, “Well, if time allows.”

“There will be time,” Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, retorted during a briefing in Washington. Earnest, speaking at the White House, played down the possibility for any “major announcement” from the meeting.

The leaders will be in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly on Monday morning. Peskov said the meeting would take place after Putin’s speech, but Earnest declined to say when it would happen.

The two camps also differed over who called for the meeting. The Kremlin said it was organized “by mutual agreement,” but Earnest said it was being held at Putin’s request.

He said the Russians were “more desperate” to talk to their American counterparts because of the economic sanctions’ impact.

  US Warns Putin

Washington advises Russia against “pouring gasoline” on the Syrian conflict by joining the Islamic State fight back. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter says he is still worried about Russia’s intentions.

The US fears that while Russia says it plans to strike IS targets in Syria, Moscow could direct its warplanes and other military might towards Syrian militants, Carter told reporters on Thursday, according to DW.

The move would weaken the chances of removing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, he added.

Pentagon officials say it remains unclear how the Russians intend to use their military in Syria, which involves the deployment of fighter jets, tanks, helicopters, air defense missiles and other equipment.

“To pursue the defeat of IS without at the same time pursuing a political transition is to fuel the very kind of extremism that underlies IS,” Carter said, adding that Russia’s strategy was a “logical contradiction.”

He said if Moscow was to actively intervene now, it would be “pouring gasoline on the civil war in Syria.”

Washington has ruled out any cooperation with Moscow without an agreement to discuss removing president Assad from power.

Russia has begun flying drone surveillance flights over Syria, ahead of what some US officials expect will be the launch of fighter aircraft in the coming days.

  Involve President Assad

In a taped interview with US television, Putin warned that any effort to destroy the Syrian government would create a situation similar to that of other Middle East countries, “where all the state institutions are disintegrated.”

He renewed his call for Washington to include President Assad in the fight back against IS militants.

The White House said the US would not back a UN Security Council statement on countering terrorism proposed by Russia. The draft urges countries to fight extremist groups “in coordination with the governments of affected states,” a reference to the Syrian government.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was open to negotiations with the Syrian government. Speaking after an EU migrant summit, she said “we have to talk to many stakeholders, including Assad.”