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Syria divisions persist at G-20

4:05 AM, Sep 6, 2013   |    comments
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Divisions among world leaders over the conflict in Syria were persisting Friday on the final day of the two-day G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Dinner discussions between President Obama and his counterparts on Syria extended late into the night, with the U.S. president returning to his hotel at 2 a.m. and British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin only starting a private talk on Syria around that time.

Tweeted Italian Prime Minister Enrique Latta early this morning, "The G-20 has just now finished the dinner session at which the divisions about Syria were confirmed."

Obama's push for a strike against Damascus does have its supporters. While administration officials try to rally support on Capitol Hill ahead of a planned Congressional vote to authorize action next week, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Thursday listed G-20 members France, Canada, Turkey and Australia as among nine countries now supporting military action.

However, those opposed to action have the upper hand, at least at the U.N. Security Council, according to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. "Even in the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities," Power said at a press briefing in New York on Thursday.

"We have seen nothing in President Putin's comments that suggest that there is an available path forward at the Security Council," she added. "[But] it is in our interest, and the interest of all member states of the U.N., to respond decisively to this horrific attack."

Russian officials seem confident that momentum for the U.S. effort is lacking. "It is impossible to say that very many states support the idea of a military operation," said Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, according to Reuters.

Obama is scheduled to have one-on-one conversations on Friday with French president Francois Hollande and China's Xi Jinping. China has so far given support to Russia's position at the Security Council and Peskov said those attending a meeting Thursday between Putin, Xi and the leaders of India, Brazil and South Africa expressed concern that an attack on Syria "could have an extremely negative effect on the global economy".

Meetings on Friday began with a discussion of humanitarian aid for those affected by the Syrian conflict. The U.K.'s Cameron, whose parliament voted not to back military action, chaired the session and announced £52 million ($81 million) in new humanitarian aid, including training for antidotes for chemical attacks, medical workers and civil defense teams on responding to them, and decontamination equipment. Russia Today reported that the meeting was followed by another on Syria involving the U.K., France, Italy and E.U. leaders that ended inconclusively.

The G-20 leaders will sign a final communique which is not expected to mention Syria as it has not been a part of the formal meeting agenda, which is focused on economic issues. The State Department seemed to hold out the possibility Secretary of State John Kerry, labeled by Putin on Wednesday as a "liar" over his testimony about Syria to Congress, might make a surprise appearance, announcing he would be flying to nearby Lithuania on Friday.

Obama meanwhile cancelled a planned trip to California that was set for Monday and Tuesday to focus on lobbying members of Congress in Washington.

Zach Coleman, USA TODAY

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