United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pressed the U.S. to accept Iran as part of a broader coalition of nations discussing the violence in Syria and the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
“It is better to have broader participants,” Ban told reporters late yesterday at the Group of 20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. Asked specifically about including Syrian ally Iran in negotiations, he said, “yes.”
Ban’s comments came hours after U.S. President Barack Obama said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to work with “all interested parties” to bring an end to the Syrian conflict. Obama didn’t address whether Iran should take part in the talks, as Russia proposed last week.
The U.S. and Russian leaders, who met for the first time in almost three years, have clashed on how to tackle the 15-month Syrian crisis that has claimed more than 10,000 lives. While Obama has called on Assad to step aside, Russia -- which sells weapons to Syria -- has blocked UN Security Council resolutions against his regime and accused the U.S. and its allies of trying to duplicate the overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
“We agreed on the need for a cessation of the violence,” Obama told reporters after the session yesterday, which lasted two hours.
“We have found many common points on this issue,” Putin said, adding that the two sides will continue discussions.
In a joint written statement, the leaders of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers expressed support for “moving forward on political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves.”
The impasse has triggered frustration among the international community, including Ban, who met with Obama yesterday and will see Putin today. The UN suspended its observer mission in Syria on June 16 because of escalating violence and withdrew personnel to bases within the country.
“How many times do I have to condemn these atrocities?” Ban said. “And how many different ways do I have to say and condemn this is a totally unacceptable situation?”
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, briefing reporters, said the talk between the two leaders will give “new impetus” to efforts to resolve differences over Syria and representatives of the countries expect to continue discussions in the coming days.
Putin and Obama also discussed the U.S. missile defense program, another source of friction between the countries, and the expansion of commercial ties, which are “far below” where they should be, Obama said. He called the meeting “candid and thorough.”
On Iran’s nuclear program, where the two countries also have differed, “we emphasized our shared approach” and “agreed that there is still time and space for diplomacy,” Obama said.
The revolt in Syria has intensified differences between Putin and Obama on responding to the uprisings in the Arab world that began more than a year ago.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, briefing reporters on June 15, cast Russia’s actions in Syria as out of step. The U.S. is “working to get the Russians to come in line with, frankly, the broad international community,” he said.
The Russian leader is mistrustful of American motives, and suspects the Obama administration is trying to topple regimes it doesn’t like and replace them with U.S.-friendly governments, according to Andrew Kuchins, a senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Putin has likened North Atlantic Treaty Organization air strikes against Libya to a “crusade” and disagreed with then- President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to abstain from a Security Council resolution authorizing the no-fly zone over Libya. Along with China, Russia twice vetoed Western attempts in the UN Security Council to put pressure on Assad.
Tensions flared last week when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of stoking the violence in Syria by delivering weapons and even attack helicopters to Assad’s forces.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov retorted that, unlike the U.S., the Russians “aren’t shipping to Syria or anywhere else things that can be used against peaceful demonstrators.”
Russia also has been at loggerheads with the U.S. over efforts to enlist Shiite Muslim Iran, as a neighbor with influence over Assad’s minority Alawite regime, in efforts to end the strife.
Clinton on June 12 said it would be a “grave error” because Iran has trained and supported Syrian government forces and Alawite militias blamed for civilian massacres.
Putin declined to attend a G-8 economic summit Obama hosted last month at the Camp David presidential retreat.
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