Putin, Obama Trade Barbs at Syria-Focused Meeting

Putin, Obama Trade Barbs  at Syria-Focused MeetingPutin, Obama Trade Barbs  at Syria-Focused Meeting

US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, jibed at each other at an annual UN meeting, alongside signs that the two leaders may be inching toward compromises on Syria’s civil war.

They spoke at an opening session of the UN General Assembly that featured back-to-back speeches from so many leader–including the presidents of Brazil, China, Iran and France–that it was dubbed “massive Monday”, Al Jazeera reports.

Putin told delegates that there was no alternative to cooperating with Damascus.

“No one but Assad’s forces are truly fighting IS and other terrorist groups in Syria,” he said.

During his speech, Obama did not explicitly call for President Assad’s ouster and he suggested there could be a “managed transition” away from his rule–a sign that the US may be willing to see Assad stay for some period of time.

“The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict,” said Obama, who spoke before Putin. “But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.”

Later, after the first face-to-face meeting between Putin and Obama in two years, a senior US official said the two sides “fundamentally disagreed” on the role that Assad will play in resolving the conflict.

“The Russians see Mr Assad as a bulwark against extremists; the Americans see Mr Assad as continuing to fan the flames of a sectarian conflict there,” the official told reporters.

  Kerry, US Allies Met

Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a meeting on Monday with Arab and European diplomatic leaders to discuss the conflict in Syria and possible ways forward to achieve a political transition.

The meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of the UK, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, on the sidelines of the UNGA.

“The ministers agreed that concerted international action is required to bring an end to the Syrian conflict,” according to a statement. “In particular, the participants discussed ideas for building renewed and credible diplomatic momentum that could bring an end to the conflict and allow Syrians to chart a peaceful future without [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad.”

Kerry told his counterparts that the US-led coalition would “raise the tempo and intensity of counter-IS operations in Syria”.

  Short Deal on Syria

Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said on Monday that European nations are increasingly contemplating some role for the Syrian government at negotiations to end the war in that country and suggested a compromise that could include President al-Assad but only for the short term.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, one of the European Union’s most influential countries, last week said she favored including al-Assad in any broad set of future negotiations.

That position is supported by Russia and Iran but opposed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Leaders attending the UN Summit are actively trying to find a formula acceptable to all sides.

In an interview with AP, Kurz said that his country is “on the same wavelength with Washington.” But he said a “realistic view” means possibly including in talks “not only those that you do not agree with but also those “that you rightly condemn,” an allusion to President al-Assad.

Kurz suggested that any “contact group” working to bring peace to Syria would have to include not only the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, but the Syrian government at least initially.