Obama, Putin meet for Syria showdown
Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin sat down Monday for a potentially awkward clash over Syria, with the United States and Russia openly backing rival sides in the civil war.
Putin went into the talks on the sidelines of the G8 summit after attacking a US decision to begin arming some selected rebel groups battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia's top strategic Arab ally.
Obama is facing domestic political criticism for either edging the United States into another war in the Middle East, or for doing too little to provide anti-Assad forces with the means to reverse recent defeats on the ground.
The talks started on time in the early evening at the Lough Erne resort on the first day of the two-day summit, US officials said.
The meeting, at the Lough Erne resort in Northern Ireland, comes with Russia facing criticism from other G8 nations over its stance on Syria -- but with apparently little incentive to back down following recent advances by Assad.
Obama will press Putin to recommit to a peace conference jointly organised by the United States and Russia that would be designed to forge a political transition in which Assad would step down.
But the conference, to be held in Geneva, has been repeatedly delayed amid disputes over who will attend and the ultimate goal of the talks.
Russia said on Monday it would not permit a no-fly zone to be implemented over Syria, following reports that the US military was drawing up contingency plans for such a measure.
The White House, despite signalling that it will send some small arms to rebel groups, said forcefully last week that it had no current intention to mount such an operation to protect civilians in Syria, as it did in Libya.
US officials will try to convince Putin that a descent into deeper chaos and instability in Syria is not in Moscow's national interests.
Top US officials, keen to avoid in Syria the messy splintering of state institutions that led to chaos in Iraq, are stressing the idea that if Assad leaves, elements of the regime, presumably sympathetic to Russia, might stay.
© 2013 AFP