Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama offered a joint plea for an end to violence in Syria while providing little detail on common steps after meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Mexico.
The two leaders have been divided on Syria, with Obama pressing Putin to help ease out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Russian leader has protected Assad with United Nations Security Council vetoes and Russia has sold weapons to the Assad regime.
“We agreed on the need for a cessation of the violence,” Obama told reporters after the session today, 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 two leaders expressed support for “moving forward on political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves.”
The United Nations suspended its observer mission in Syria on June 16 because of escalating violence and withdrew personnel to bases within the country.
Obama said he and Putin agreed to work with “all interested parties” on Syria, including the United Nations. He didn’t address whether Syrian ally Iran should be included in talks, as Russia proposed last week. The U.S. rebuffed the idea at the time.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, briefing reporters afterward, 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, which has been a 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.