Paul McGeough June 20, 2012
''We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war,'' Mr Obama said as he and Mr Putin behaved coolly with each other in a joint press conference. Photo: AP
LOS CABOS: Despite a firming Western consensus that only the ouster of the Assad regime can resolve the bloody conflict in Syria, the US President, Barack Obama, seemingly has failed to sell his argument to his newly installed Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Meeting for two hours ahead of Monday's opening of a G20 summit here, the two leaders dwelt on the need for peace after more than 15 months of fighting and a death toll estimated to exceed 15,000 - but not on how to achieve it. ''We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war,'' Mr Obama said as he and Mr Putin behaved coolly with each other in a joint press conference.
Mr Putin's words avoided specifics too: ''We have found many common points on this issue.''
Mr Putin committed the pair to further dialogue. But in characterising their encounter, Mr Obama fell back on diplomatic shorthand for difficult terrain - ''candid, thoughtful and thorough''.
Washington had been banking on Mr Obama's ability to enlist Mr Putin as an envoy for the world, who might be able to convince the Syrian President, Bashar Assad, that in cracking down so brutally on protesters he had backed himself into a corner from which his only exit could be exile.
Instead, the statement they issued did not go beyond a joint acknowledgement that was as obvious as it was noncommittal - the Syrian people should independently and democratically be able to decide their own future.
''In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria,'' it said, ''we call for an immediate cessation of the violence and express full support for the efforts of … special envoy, Kofi Annan, including on moving forward on political transition to a democratic pluralist political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syrian sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.''
But the acknowledgement of the effort by Mr Annan, appointed by the United Nations and the Arab League to negotiate a ceasefire, only drew attention to the failure of the Annan six-point peace plan and the suspension at the weekend of a UN monitoring operation because of renewed violent attacks by rebel fighters and regime forces.
Similarly, the authors of the statement opted not to refer to the detail of the leaders' disagreement - Mr Assad was not mentioned by name and his fate was not alluded to; calls for arms embargoes and sanctions on the regime went unmentioned.
A complication in reconciling their contradictory views - Mr Putin sees Damascus as Moscow's last Cold War client state in the Middle East; Mr Obama sees the Syrian leader as a dictator whose use-by date has come - is that Syria is just one on a laundry list of complex issues they must resolve.
The list includes the fate of Iran's nuclear program - on which talks resumed in Moscow on Monday; the stationing of US missile defence batteries in Europe; moves in the US Congress to act against Russian officials on human rights issues; and US criticism of the treatment of democracy protesters in Russia.