Obama Uses G-20 Summit To Gather Support On Syria

The G-20 meeting draws to a close on Friday, overshadowed by the crisis in Syria. President Obama continues to try, both at home and abroad, to build support for a U.S. military strike on Syria.

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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And I'm Renee Montagne. President Obama is struggling to find support both at home and abroad, for a U.S. military strike on Syria. At the G-20 summit in Russia, Obama is warning foreign leaders that failure to respond to last month's deadly chemical attack - weapons attack - will embolden Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. The summit's host, Vladimir Putin, has been one of the staunchest opponents of U.S. military action.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from Saint Petersburg, Russia, where the summit has just wrapped up. And just minutes ago, President Obama finished a press conference. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So Presidents Obama and Putin weren't scheduled to meet one-on-one during this summit, but at the last minute, they did. So what happened? What came of that?

HORSLEY: Right. The White House had cancelled a planned meeting with Putin weeks ago, partly to protest the political asylum that Russia granted accused NSA leaker Edward Snowden. And as late as yesterday, there didn't seem to be any prospect of a face-to-face sit-down, but then the two leaders did sit down this morning on the sidelines of one of the general sessions here at the G-20. They spoke for about 20 minutes, mostly about Syria. And here's how Putin described the meeting. He's speaking here through an interpreter.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through translator) It was a very friendly conversation. We stick to our guns. Everybody remained with his position. We listened to each other. We understand arguments. We do not agree with those arguments, but still, we can hear them.

HORSLEY: And Obama also characterized the meeting as straightforward, and said while he and Putin don't agree on the proper response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, they can work together on a diplomatic resolution to that country's wider civil war.

MONTAGNE: All right. Obama, though, didn't win over the Russian president. I don't think anybody expected he would. But how has he done with the other G-20 leaders?

HORSLEY: Well, it's been a mix. That was the big - Syria was the big topic at the G-20 dinner last night, and Obama says there's widespread acknowledgement chemical weapons were used in Syria. Most of the G-20 members - with Russia as a big exception - agreed that the Syrian government was responsible for the use of chemical weapons. The big divide, though, is how the international community should respond. Some countries insist that any action must be authorized by the United Nations.

The United States, however, and some other countries have decided that's a dead-end, so long as Russia has a veto on the U.N. Security Council. President Obama has said he's prepared to go forward on a military strike without U.N. approval.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When there's a breach this brazen of a norm this important and the international community is paralyzed and frozen and doesn't act, then that norm begins to unravel.

HORSLEY: And that U.S. position was endorsed at the conclusion of the G-20 by a number of other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the U.K.

MONTAGNE: It, though, does sound like the president had a pretty full plate dealing with those foreign leaders. But when he's on the road, Obama also has got one eye back on Washington, where lawmakers have begun deliberating whether to authorize a military strike, right?

HORSLEY: Certainly. The president took a big gamble when he announced last weekend that he would seek a green light from Congress before going forward with a military strike. And, you know, a no vote would really tie the president's hands - not only in Syria, but on future military actions, as well. So there's a lot at stake for the commander-in-chief, and he's dealing with a lot of skepticism, both in Congress and with the general public. Obama said this afternoon he knew that going in, and he said it's part of his job to make the case to the American people. He plans to address the nation on Syria on Tuesday.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Scott Horsely in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the G-20 summit has just wrapped up. Thanks very much, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

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