Paul McGeough, Los Cabos, Mexico June 20, 2012
Vladimir Putin with Barack Obama. Photo: AFP
DESPITE a growing Western consensus that only the removal of the Assad regime can resolve the bloody conflict in Syria, US President Barack Obama has apparently failed to sell his argument to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meeting ahead of Monday's opening of the G20 summit here, the two 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 sat awkwardly with one another at a joint press conference. Mr Putin avoided specifics too, saying only ''we have found many common points on this issue''.
The call for an ''immediate'' end to hostilities came as 94 deaths were reported in an artillery pounding of cities and as Russia reportedly prepared to send two warships with marines to its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus. A Russian ship believed to be carrying helicopters and missiles bound for Syria has had its insurance cancelled at the behest of the British government and may have to return to Kaliningrad.
During the presidents' meeting, US officials said, Mr Putin pointed to what the Russians view as failed examples of political transition in Egypt and Libya as well as their concern that the West does not have a credible plan for what would happen to Syria's ethnic groups if Bashar al-Assad stepped down.
Mr Obama's former presidential rival, John McCain, renewed pressure on the White House to circumvent the United Nations and Russia's veto and follow the approach Bill Clinton took in intervening in Kosovo in 1999. ''When it comes to the administration's policy in Syria, to say they are 'leading from behind' is too generous,'' Senator McCain said. ''That suggests they are leading. They are just behind.''
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - who is meeting separately with Mr Obama and Mr Putin at the summit - said Iran should be part of a ''contact group'' discussing ways to end the conflict in Syria, something Moscow has advocated but Washington rejects.