Obama, Putin find common ground on Syria after Paris attacks


US president Barack Obama talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin on the side of the G20 summit. (Reuters: Cem Oksuz/Pool)

The presidents of the United States and Russia have agreed on a United Nations role to end the bloodshed in Syria, as the Paris attacks jolted G20 leaders into seeking a united front against Islamic State jihadists.

Putting aside significant differences, US president Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Turkey on Sunday after the Paris bombing and shooting assaults which killed at least 129 people and sparked global outrage.

In images captured on Turkish public television, the leaders were seen leaning in to each other as they held animated talks on the fringes of the gathering of the Group of 20 leading world economies in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya.

“The conversation lasted approximately 35 minutes and centred around ongoing efforts to resolve the conflict in Syria, an imperative made all the more urgent by the horrifying terrorist attacks in Paris,” a US official said.

The Kremlin said “divergences” remained on strategy but the tone was described as “constructive” by a US official.

It was the two presidents’ first meeting since Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September which the Kremlin insists is aimed against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

The West however suspects Moscow’s true aim is to target opponents of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Obama and Mr Putin nevertheless agreed on the need for United Nations talks, a ceasefire and a transition government in Syria, the US official said, seeking a way out of a four-year war in which IS has thrived, occupying large swathes of territory and displacing millions of people.

The strategy echoed a plan for Syria already forged by diplomats at talks in Vienna the previous day, but it still appeared to mark a perceptible thaw in the icy relations between the former Cold War foes and their leaders.

In a reminder of the global spread of jihadist extremists, Mr Obama condemned the Paris massacre as well as a double suicide bombing in Ankara that killed 102 people last month and offered his “deep condolences” to Mr Putin over the crash of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt that killed all 224 people aboard.

The West suspects the plane was downed by a bomb placed by IS.

Turkey also said it had foiled a major IS attack plot in its biggest city Istanbul on Friday, the same day as the Paris attacks.


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