US President Barack Obama resisted pressure on Friday to abandon plans for airstrikes against Syria and enlisted the support of 10 fellow leaders for a “strong” response to a chemical weapons attack.
Obama refused to blink after Russian President Vladimir Putin led a campaign to talk him out of military intervention at a two-day summit of the Group of Twenty (G-20) developed and developing economies in St. Petersburg. He persuaded 10 other G-20 nations to join the US in signing a statement calling for a strong international response, although it fell short of supporting military strikes, underscoring the deep disagreements that dominated the summit.
French President Francois Hollande said any strikes would be limited to military targets. “We will do everything we can so that France only strikes military targets to avoid civilian casualties,” he said. “A dictator cannot anticipate everything,” he said when asked if regime’s troops had already moved core weapons from potential target areas.
Leaders of the G-20, which accounts for 90 percent of the world economy and two thirds of its population, put aside their differences to unite behind a call for growth and jobs and agreed the global economy was on the mend but not out of crisis.
But there was no joint statement on Syria, despite a 20-minute one-on-one talk between Obama and Putin on the sidelines of the summit on Friday, following a tense group discussion on the civil war over dinner late on Thursday.
“We hear one another, and understand the arguments but we don’t agree. I don’t agree with his arguments, he doesn’t agree with mine,” Putin told a closing news conference dominated by questions about Syria.
Participants at the dinner said the tension between Putin and Obama was palpable but that they seemed at pains to avoid an escalation. Obama said credit was due to Putin for facilitating the long discussion of the Syrian crisis on Thursday night.
But he defended his call for a military response to what Washington says was a chemical weapons attack by Bashar Assad’s forces on Aug. 21.
Chinese President Xi Jinping tried to dissuade Obama from military action during talks, telling him that Beijing expected countries to think twice before acting.
Meanwhile, the US tightened security at diplomatic missions in Lebanon and Turkey on Friday because of potential threats, ordering personnel out of Lebanon and offering to evacuate those in Adana, Turkey.
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