Obama, Putin call for an end to combat in Syria

Obama-putin
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.

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Leaders of the Group of 20 nations gather in Mexico

Julian Ventura and President Barack Obama
LOS CABOS, Mexico –- With the pro-bailout New Democracy party’s victory in Greece, leaders of the world’s biggest economies averted the worst of possible scenarios heading into their annual summit Monday.

The heads of the Group of 20 nations, who are gathering in a beachfront resort in Los Cabos, Mexico, were bracing for chaos to break out in financial markets and possibly their meetings if the Greek parliamentary election went the other way in favor of the radical anti-austerity group Syriza.     

But the vote tally eased fears of an imminent Greek exit from the Eurozone. Asian markets, the first to react to Greece’s election results, opened sharply higher Monday. U.S. stock futures rose Sunday night.

“Certainly the outcome was among the most positive one could have expected,” said Domenico Lombardi, an expert on international monetary relations at the Brookings Institution. It essentially lifted the cloud of “an immediate meltdown and uncontrolled escalation of the Greek crisis.”   

Even so, Lombardi and other analysts think the election results were likely to provide only temporary relief as they didn’t change the grim realities of Greece’s deep financial and economic problems. Nor did the Greek vote change the low expectations for the G-20 summit.    

President Obama and other leaders, arriving here Sunday night, are hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s G-20 summit in France when the meetings were overshadowed by crises in Greece and Italy, and leaders failed to secure funding from member countries to help contain the problem.

Since then, some of the G-20 nations have pledged to bolster the International Monetary Fund’s bailout resources by a total of about $430 billion. Major developing countries such as China are expected to specify their commitments at this summit.

But with the Eurozone crisis in its third year and dragging down growth around the world, European heads, especially Germany’s Angela Merkel, the main proponent for austerity, are expected to come under heavy pressure from Obama and other G-20 leaders to do more – and more quickly.

"This is a moment in which things are very, very bad ... and we have to give out a good signal between now and Tuesday," said Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon on the eve of the summit. But he also noted that he didn’t expect to reach specific agreements on Europe.

Calderon, the host of this year’s G-20 summit, is in the final months of his presidency and is keen to burnish his own legacy, amid widespread public dismay over drug-war violence that has claimed more than 50,000 lives since he took office December 2006. The summit is one of the events that he is hoping will put his administration in a favorable global spotlight.

Obama has even more at stake, as Europe’s economic woes have become a major stumbling block for the American economy – and his political future. The president has pushed his European counterparts, especially Merkel, to shift to more pro-growth policies, but he and other non-European leaders have little leverage beyond peer pressure.

Also at the summit, Obama is scheduled to have bilateral meetings Monday with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Relations between the two have stiffened because of differences over Syria. On Tuesday, Obama will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao. U.S.-China trade tensions have increased recently.

Although the Eurozone crisis will dominate the discussions, the  Los Cabos meeting has a wide-ranging agenda, including strengthening the financial system and enhancing food security and efforts to fight against climate change.

“Now that some of the fear [related to] the Greek elections has subsided, we’re hoping this makes room for the broader agenda that President Calderon expressed the need for yesterday,” said Adam Taylor, vice president for advocacy at World Vision, which along with other humanitarian organizations is pushing G-20 leaders to better address not just the European debt crisis but the crisis of global hunger and malnutrition.

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Must Reads: Syrian life, Colombian deaths and Mexican politics

 -- Don Lee in Los Cabos with Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: U.S. Ambassador Julian Ventura, left, and President Obama upon disembarking from Air Force One at the Los Cabos International Airport. Credit: Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images

 


Putin bows out of G-8 summit at Camp David

Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev
WASHINGTON -- Russian President Vladimir Putin will skip the meeting of leaders of the Group of 8 nations at Camp David next week, citing his responsibilities "to finalize Cabinet appointments in the new Russian government," the White House said Wednesday.

In his place, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will attend the summit, which was moved from Chicago to the presidential retreat.

Obama, "expressed his understanding" of Putin's decision in a phone call between the two leaders Wednesday, according to the White House. They will hold a bilateral meeting during the Group of 20 summit in Mexico in June.

In March, Obama explained that he had decided to move the G-8 gathering from Chicago to the woods of Camp David in part to provide "a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a pretty intimate way."

"It will give me a chance to spend time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian president," Obama told a news conference at the time.

The G-8 summit is scheduled for May 18-19. NATO leaders will meet in Chicago on May 20-21.

In their phone call, Obama and Putin “noted with satisfaction the concrete achievements of the last three years and expressed their commitment to enhance bilateral cooperation on the basis of mutual strategic interests,” the White House said.

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 -- Michael Memoli

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attend a Victory Day parade in Moscow this week. Credit:  Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times

 


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