• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 6:56am

G20

The Group of 20 comprises finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies: 19 countries plus the European Union, which is represented by the president of the European Council and by the European Central Bank. 

NewsWorld
G20 SUMMIT

Syria set to overshadow G20 summit in St Petersburg

President Putin offers Barack Obama a smile and a handshake, but there will be no one-on-one discussions between the leaders

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 10:27am

President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, shook hands, smiled and made small talk about the scenery yesterday - a public exchange of pleasantries belying a tense relationship that only seems to be getting worse.

Parsing the body language between Obama and Putin has become something of a geopolitical parlour game every time the two leaders meet. But there wasn't much to work with this time: their exchange lasted just 15 seconds.

Obama's black armoured limousine pulled up to the palace where Putin was waiting to greet each of the leaders. The US president was the only leader who used his own official vehicle for the arrival, opting not to use the summit-issued Mercedes the other 19 leaders used.

The two leaders, both smiling, greeted each other with a handshake. Obama gestured towards the palace and the blue sky, declaring the location "beautiful".

Obama and Putin may talk again on the sidelines of the summit, but any discussion would be private.

Obama met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines and the US president said he and Abe shared the view that chemical weapons use in Syria was a violation of international law that must be addressed. Obama is also scheduled to meet French President Francois Hollande and Chinese President Xi Jinping today.

Still struggling to persuade dubious lawmakers at home on Syria, Obama in Russia will seek to win over world leaders reluctant to get drawn into yet another US-led sortie in a Mideast nation.

Although Syria wasn't formally on the agenda for the economy-focused summit, US officials were resigned to the fact that the civil war there would overwhelm any talks about global economics.

Putin announced that after requests by "some participants", the crisis in Syria would after all be discussed over Thursday's dinner, something that would have gladdened Obama.

In an ironic twist for Obama, the nation hosting the summit is also the nation most forcefully obstructing Obama's path to an international consensus. Russia has provided critical military and financial backing for Assad and has leveraged its veto power in the UN Security Council to keep a resolution condemning Syria from getting off the ground.

While insisting Obama has yet to prove his case, Putin appeared to temper his rhetoric slightly in a pre-summit interview, saying he wouldn't rule out backing a UN resolution if it can be proved Assad gassed his own people with chemical weapons.

He also played down any personal tensions with Obama.

"President Obama hasn't been elected by the American people in order to be pleasant to Russia," Putin said.

"And your humble servant hasn't been elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone either."

Such an admission revealed a remarkable lowering of the bar from the summer of 2009, when Obama, on his last visit to Russia, trumpeted a "reset" in relations between the former foes.

"This will not be easy," Obama said in Moscow. "It's hard to change habits that have been ingrained in our governments and our bureaucracies for decades."

Indeed, it hasn't been easy. The crisis in Syria joins a long list of contentious issues that have made co-operation between the countries a trying endeavour, even though Obama points to successes early in his presidency on nuclear stockpile reduction and trading regulations.

Obama will call attention to one area of disagreement - gay rights - when he meets today in St Petersburg with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Share

Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

This article is now closed to comments

richard.barnes.528
Assad has threatened to try to destroy the city of Tel-Aviv with missiles if NATO or outside nations got involved militarily in Syria. Israel has warned Assad that Damascus would be destroyed in return. I’m paraphrasing of course, but I think you get the message. If Assad in response to outside intervention uses biological or chemical weapons on Tel-Aviv and Israel retaliates against Damascus with a nuclear strike it would be the fulfillment of Isaiah 17. We have been on the knifes edge for months now and it looks like it’s likely to take place sooner rather than latter. I’m not saying it is “without question”, but without question it looks like it is. I wrote a small 6 page book that speaks about salvation and what I believe the Bible states will take place soon as well as the potential trends I see at this time. I don’t accept donations and it’s free. It’s a short read. I encourage you to have a look: ****www.booksie.com/religion_and_spirituality/book/richard_b_barnes/after-the-rapture-whats-next

Login

SCMP.com Account

or