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G20 leaders fail to reach consensus on Syria issue

September 06, 2013 22:03 IST

The G20 summit has failed to heal the rift over US plans for military action against the embattled Syrian regime, as American President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin could not reach consensus on Friday during "candid and constructive" talks.

The divide at the summit was symbolised by a separate statement issued by eleven G20 states that called for a "strong international response" to a chemical weapons attack they said was clearly carried out by the Bashar al-Assad regime.

"The evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime," said the statement which was supported by states like Britain, France, United States and Saudi Arabia.

"We call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world's rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated," the statement released by the White House said.

Earlier on Friday, Putin met Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit and held talks on Syria. Putin said the meeting did not end their differences on the conflict.

"We spoke sitting down... it was a constructive, meaningful, cordial conversation. Each of us kept with our own opinion," Putin told reporters.

Putin's chief foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said that the "contradictions remained" after the talks that lasted for nearly half an hour.

Obama said that the world cannot "stand idly" by on Syria and announced he would address the nation over the crisis on Tuesday. He described his talks with Putin as "as candid and constructive".

The US government accuses President Bashar al-Assad's forces of killing 1,429 people in a poison-gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, a charge denied by the Syrian government.

Obama discussed the deepening crisis in Syria with other G20 delegates at a lengthy working dinner last night where their differences in opinion became obvious. On the final day of their talks these divisions were even more entrenched.

Putin hosted the dinner that ran on into the early hours of this morning but failed to win a breakthrough on how to halt the imminent conflict in Syria.

The Syrian issue dominated the dinner meeting during which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an intervention and said India is opposed to any unilateral military action against Syria without UN authorisation.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that it was the Prime Minister's view that the world community should wait for the report of the UN inspectors on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The prime minister also told his fellow G20 leaders that India condemns the use of chemical weapons whether in Syria or anywhere in the world, Ahluwalia, who was present at the dinner meeting, told reporters here.

Many leaders at the dinner remained in doubt about whether Assad's regime was behind the attack, according to a French official in St Petersburg.

At the dinner on Thursday, a fleeting interaction between Obama and Putin became the high-drama moment of the summit, underscoring the laboured state of relations between the two leaders who stand on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict.

Russia has emerged as one of the most staunch critics of military intervention against the Assad regime, saying any such move without UN blessing would be an aggression.

The US also seemed to come to terms with the fact that no deal could emerge despite repeated attempts to persuade Russia.

"What we've repeatedly seen is Russia refusing to take action to... (hold) the Assad regime accountable and again seeking to work through different processes to avoid the core issues," Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said.

"We can't have an endless process at the UN Security Council that doesn't lead to anything," he said.

Striking down the plans of Russian lawmakers to visit Washington to persuade Congress not to approve Obama's plans for strikes against Syria, Rhodes said Russia has nothing more to contribute.

"I don't know that the Russians have anything to add to the debate in the United States given that we know where Russia stands on this issue," he said.

Meanwhile, the head of Syria's parliament has urged the US Congress to vote against military action targeting the Syrian regime.

"We urge you not to take reckless measures as you have the power to steer the United States from the path of war to that of diplomacy," Parliament chief Jihad al-Lahham was quoted as saying by the state-run SANA news agency.

Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Ministry warned Washington today against striking Syrian chemical weapons storage sites over fears it could cause an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.

"We warn the US authorities and its allies against launching any strikes on the chemical sites and surrounding areas. Such actions would lead to a new dangerous development in the tragic Syrian crisis," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

Even as Russia and China oppose unilateral action outside UN's mandate, France has stood beside the US, calling for strong action against Syria.

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin walks past Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and US President Barack Obama (R) during the G20 summit in St.Petersburg

Image: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

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