LOS CABOS, Mexico -- President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria and expressed support for a political transition in the strife-ridden country, an attempt to find common ground on the most contentious issue confronting them in their first meeting since Putin’s inauguration last month.
“We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future,” Obama and Putin said in a joint statement released after a two-hour meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
The statement repeated their support for the six-point peace plan promoted by United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan, which many observers believe is on the brink of collapse.
The meeting came as tensions between the U.S. and Russia have flared, particularly over the conflict in Syria. Russia, a longtime ally and arms supplier of Syria, has refused to join the West in calling for President Bashar Assad’s ouster.
Putin has claimed to be neutral in the conflict between Assad and rebels groups seeking his ouster. But the Russian leader has aligned himself with Assad and blamed “extremists” for the violence that has killed thousands over the last year.
Still, Russian diplomats have contended their government is seeking a political solution not necessarily tied to Assad’s continued control. Russia would like to head off a military intervention similar to the one that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization led in Libya.
U.S. officials have demanded that Assad step down, although they have said that the process should be an orderly transition.
The statement issued Monday emphasized the common goals and includes language that appears to be aimed at Russia’s concerns. It noted the leaders' support for Annan’s plan, including “moving forward on political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.”
Addressing reporters after their meeting, Putin said he and Obama had been able to “find many commonalities” on international affairs, including Syria. Obama acknowledged the need to “find constructive ways to manage through any bilateral tensions.”
The two appeared cordial, if not overly friendly, and each extended invitations to visit their respective nations.
-- Kathleen Hennessey. Michael A. Memoli in Washington contributed.
Photo: President Obama speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, on Monday. Credit: Alexei Nikolsky / Pool Photo