President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on Monday while at the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, to discuss the crisis in Syria but the Russian leader has still refused to support a change of regime. Both leaders did agree that hostilities should cease in Syria, where the government’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests has led to the deaths of 14,000, according to activists.
A joint statement issued by Obama and Putin — sitting side by side in what the New York Times called a “grim tableau” after two hours of meeting — said that Syrians should “independently and democratically be allowed to decide their own future” but did not mention President Bashar al-Assad stepping down. The Guardian notes that neither leader mentioned Assad by name, “thus avoiding any express reference to past US demands that Assad step down.” Sanctions and a tougher arms embargo were both not discussed, meaning that the possibility of further action by the United Nations Security Council remains impossible. Russia, Syria’s ally since the Cold War, holds veto power on the Security Council and has so far wielded it, along with China, to prevent further sanctions against Syria.
It was the first meeting between Obama and Putin since the latter, a former KGB spymaster, was inaugurated as president and the Russian leader seems to have gained more from it than his American counterpart. The Guardian observes that ”Syria is not yet an election issue but if television keeps showing footage of widespread killing in the country, it could easily become one”: Just on Monday, Senator John McCain called for US intervention to create a safe haven for the rebels in Syria and to arm them; he was dismissive of Obama’s and Putin’s joint statement. The Obama administration has not sought to intervene militarily in Syria as in Libya but Obama’s failure to persuade Putin means that the violence in Syria will continue.
Recent comments by Mitt Romney that Russia is the biggest strategic threat to America have been “widely ridiculed in foreign policy circles” but have, regardless, been “felt in Moscow,” says the New York Times.
US-Russian relations have also been strained by statements from the US State Department about the popular protests at the time of Putin’s inauguration and afterwards.
On Tuesday, the UK took steps to stop a cargo vessel allegedly carrying Russian-made attack helicopters to Syria. The ship, the MV Alaed, was about 50 miles off the north coast of Scotland when its insurance was withdrawn by The Standard Club in London. In a statement, The Standard Club said that, on Friday evening, it was informed that “the ship might be carrying weapons, in particular attack helicopters, missiles and non-specific munitions, and we are making inquiries to establish what their side of the story is.” Shipments of weapons from Russia to Syria are subject to a European Union arms embargo.
Back in December, Russian warships believed to be carrying weapons en route to Syria were delayed in Scotland’s Moray Firth due to bad weather.
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