UNITED NATIONS

Obama, Putin sharply disagree over chaos in Syria

World leaders clash over war in Syria

 

President Obama and Russia’s Vladimir Putin wrapped up their first face-to-face meeting in nearly a year late Monday at the United Nations summit where they fundamentally disagreed over the chaos in Syria.

A U.S. official said the pair have agreed to discuss political transition in Syria but were at odds over the role that Syrian President Bahar al-Assad should play in resolving the civil conflict.

The official said Obama reiterated to Putin that he does not believe there is a path to stability in Syria with Assad in power. Putin has said the world needs to support Assad because his military has the best chance to defeat Islamic State militants.

Putin said the meeting, which lasted a little over 90 minutes, was “very constructive, business-like and frank” and the two world leaders discussed Russia’s potential involvement in a military campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria.

“We are thinking about it, and we don’t exclude anything.” Putin told reporters.

More On This...

The Kremlin chief said that any Russian action would be in accordance with the international law.

Putin said he and Obama discussed the U.S.-led coalition's action against ISIS. He did not mention Russia's behavior in backing rebels in Ukraine or its takeover of Crimea, which was at the top of the Obama agenda.

A senior administration official described the meeting as “business-like back and forth” and productive.

The two met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Syria and Ukraine were expected to top the agenda for the sit-down.

Earlier, the two clashed sharply in separate addresses to the General Assembly in New York City, with Obama urging a political transition to replace the Syrian president but Putin warning it would be a mistake to abandon the current government.

Obama said the U.S. is "prepared to work" with Russia and Iran to resolve the bloody Syrian civil war. 

But, in a clear reference to Putin's support for the regime in Damascus, Obama said the world cannot see a "return to the pre-war status quo" in Syria. 

"Let's remember how this started," Obama said. "[Bashar] Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing." 

Without elaborating, Obama said "compromise" will be required to end the fighting in Syria and stomp out the Islamic State. But he said there must be a "transition" away from Assad. 

Putin, though, used his own address to voice support for the Syrian government and argue that its military is the only viable option for defeating the Islamic State.

"We believe it's a huge mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian authorities, with the government forces, those who are bravely fighting terror face-to-face," Putin said during his first appearance at the U.N. gathering in a decade.

Obama and Putin's disparate views of the grim situation in Syria left little indication of how the two countries might work together to end a conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people and resulted in a flood of refugees.

The Syria crisis largely overshadowed the summit's other discussions on peacekeeping, climate change and global poverty.

The Obama-Putin meeting comes as Moscow builds up its military presence in Syria, for reasons that U.S. officials have said remain unclear. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.