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Putin: Bilateral Talks With Obama Yield Little On Syria


President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks at a meeting with G20 leaders St. Petersburg.
President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks at a meeting with G20 leaders St. Petersburg.
The United States and Russia say they have not bridged their differences over the issue of possible military operation in Syria.

Speaking at a press conference following a two-day Group of 20 (G20) economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on September 6 that military action would be "counterproductive."

"We know that as soon as some clashes or disasters take place in [the Middle East] energy prices immediately jump up," Putin said.

"What does it mean? It means that these prices suppress global economic growth. At such a rather difficult time for the global economy, any destabilization in the Middle East is counterproductive, to put it very diplomatically."

U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing for military action to punish the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical-weapons attack. Washington alleges that the attack killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus last month.

Russia, along with China, has refused to agree to a UN Security Council resolution against Damascus, saying any military action without the United Nations would be illegal. Putin has said any use of force against Syria without UN approval would be an "act of aggression."

Putin said he had a one-to-one meeting with Obama late on September 5 and that, while the two disagreed on Syria, the talks were "substantial and constructive."

He described the use of chemical weapons as "a provocation on the part of the militants who are expecting to get support from outside," and that Moscow would continue helping Syria even if it came under attack.

"Will we continue helping Syria? Yes we will. How do we help them now? We are providing them with weapons, we cooperate in economic area," Putin said. "I hope to see more cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, including aid deliveries."

Putin also said the issue of U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was not discussed during his meeting with Obama. Russia has granted asylum to Snowden, who is wanted in the United States for espionage.

Obama: 'Strong Response' Needed

Also speaking at the end of the summit, Obama said he had a "candid and constructive conversation" with his Russian counterpart, even if they still disagreed on how to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Obama argued that action is required even when the Security Council is paralyzed.

The U.S. president also claimed a growing recognition among G20 leaders that "the world cannot stand idly by" in the face of chemical-weapons use in Syria.

"Here in St. Petersburg leaders from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East have come together to say that the international norm against the use of chemical weapons must be upheld and that the Assad regime used these weapons on its own people. And that as a consequence there needs to be a strong response."

The Group of 20 summit, which brings together the heads of the 20 leading developed and developing economies, was to focus mainly on economic topics, but the formal agenda was largely overshadowed by Syria.

WATCH: About 20 gay-rights activists staged a demonstration in St. Petersburg to raise awareness about the problem of growing homophobia in Russia. A heavy police presence separated protesters from a group of Orthodox Christian activists who came to disrupt the demonstration and throw stones.
G20 St. Petersburg LGBT Protest
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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said world leaders were "almost equally" divided on how to respond to the suspected chemical-weapons attack in Syria. A working dinner on September 5 failed to bridge differences.

Ten countries, including nine G20 members, joined the United States in a joint statement on September 6 calling for a "strong international response" to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The statement says the evidence "clearly points to the Syrian government" being responsible for last month's attack. However, it does not explicitly call for military action.

The countries signing the document included Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed concerns that removing Assad would open the way for extremists to take over the country, saying any new Syrian government would be better than the present one.

The only leaders at the G20 meeting to commit to using force in Syria are the United States and France. But French President Francois Hollande said he would wait for a UN report on last month's alleged chemical attack before taking a final decision on action against Syria.

Economy On The Agenda Too

Despite differences over Syria, reports say summit leaders did manage to agree on several economic measures, including steps to fight tax evasion by multinational companies.

The leaders signed off on a plan designed to make sure multinational corporations pay taxes "where economic activities deriving the profits are performed and where value is created" instead of tax havens.

It envisions information-sharing among governments to target tax evaders, with the goal of having a system running by the end of 2015.

The G20 leaders also warned that the world's economic recovery was too weak, with the risk of a further slowdown, and agreed to make economic growth and job creation their top priority.

On September 5, emerging economies like India urged the G20 to boost global demand and said sufficient warning must be given before governments can carry out changes in monetary policy.

The appeal reflects concern among emerging markets that the U.S. Federal Reserve would tighten up its loose monetary policy and Europe was not doing enough to encourage a demand-driven recovery.

Obama also met in St. Petersburg with a group of Russian human rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists amid international criticism of a recent Russian law banning gay "propaganda" allegedly directed at children.

He told them he was "proud of their work," and that "part of good government is making sure that we're creating space for civil society to function."

Earlier on September 6, some 20 LGBT activists protested in St. Petersburg, holding signs reading "Gay is OK" and "Stop homophobia in Russia."

A larger group of Orthodox Christian activists disrupted the rally, throwing stones at the protesters.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but remains stigmatized in a country where the Orthodox Church holds considerable influence.

Amnesty International has urged the G20 leaders in St. Petersburg to "do all in their power" to persuade Russian authorities to scrap the controversial law.

With reporting by dpa, Reuters, AP, Interfax, and AFP
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