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Obama, Putin meet at summit despite tensions over Syria

September 06, 2013|By Kathleen Hennessey

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- President Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, a White House official confirmed, as the two leaders wrapped up a summit that put a harsh spotlight on the international divide over Obama’s plan to launch military strikes in Syria.

The official did not provide details or timing on the meeting, which took place at a gathering of the Group of 20 economic summits. But Putin, the summit host and an opponent of military intervention in the Syrian civil war, told reporters that the meeting lasted for about 20 minutes. The two men sat down and exchanged views, though they did not find new agreement.

“It was a very friendly conversation,” Putin said, through a translator, at a news conference Friday afternoon. “We stuck to our guns. Everybody remained on his position.”

Obama confirmed the meeting at a news conference of his own. "My interactions with him tend to be very straightforward," he said.

Obama said the two leaders did not discuss the case of Edward Snowden, a former contract worker for the National Security Agency who released information about extensive U.S. tracking of worldwide communications and eventually sought refuge in Russia.

The debate over striking the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has consumed the international meeting and aggravated major tensions between the U.S. and Russia. A dinner late Thursday became a forum for the debate and Putin provided a head count on the world leaders' positions.

The United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Turkey argued for military strikes, Putin said. British Prime Minister David Cameron also advocated for a strike, although the British Parliament has voted against it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “also cautious,” Putin told reporters.

Opposing the use of military force were Russia, India, China, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Italy, Putin said. He added the secretary-general of the United Nations and “let us not forget the address by the pope,” Putin said.

Pope Francis has said the strike would be a "futile mission."

Putin also argued that even in the countries whose leaders are supporting the military action, public opinion is against it.

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kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

Twitter: @khennessey

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