Obama, seated at a long table across from Abe in the Constantine Palace, said he hoped the leaders would have “an extensive conversation about the situation in Syria and, I think, our joint recognition that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only a tragedy but also a violation of international law that must be addressed.”
But Russian President Vladimir Putin, who officially opened the Group of 20 summit Thursday afternoon, staunchly opposes Obama’s push for military action against Syria and has scoffed at U.S. evidence of the attack.
Putin welcomed Obama at the entrance to the Constantine Palace with a formal handshake and brief chitchat. The two leaders smiled at one another and their businesslike exchange lasted about 15 seconds.
Obama does not plan to meet with Putin, although U.S. officials said they expect the two presidents to interact informally on the summit’s sidelines. As Putin formally opened the summit by delivering a statement in Russian inside the ornate palace, Obama sat four chairs away listening to an English translation.
Putin steered clear of Syria, focusing his remarks on global economics. He praised the G-20 for staving off financial catastrophe since 2008. “Today, the most acute of those problems that were identified have been resolved or are under control,” he said.
In the evening, though, Putin will host a private working dinner where he plans to discuss the situation in Syria with visiting leaders. At the dinner, Obama intends to make the same case to his global counterparts that he has been making to the American public, which is that the Assad regime carried out a chemical weapons attack in violation of international norms and should face punishment, deputy national security adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes said.
However, Rhodes added, “we would never expect to achieve full consensus among the countries here because Russia takes a different position on the issue of Syria generally.”
Rhodes said Obama will acknowledge the “critical role” the United Nations should play in addressing the attack in Syria, but that the U.N. Security Council has been “paralyzed” because of Russia’s support for the Assad regime.
“We’re not interested in simply drawing out a process at the U.N. that is not going to lead to a result,” Rhodes told reporters here Thursday.
Putin, a key patron of Assad’s regime, said Wednesday that it was “absurd” to think Assad used chemical weapons on civilians. Putin also accused U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry of lying in his testimony before Congress.