- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2012

In their first meeting following renewed tensions between the U.S. and Russia, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin called Monday for an end to the violence in Syria and said there’s still time for diplomacy to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

As world leaders gathered for the two-day Group of 20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, much of the focus was on the European economic crisis, which could deflate Mr. Obama’s re-election hopes. Mr. Obama hailed the victory of pro-bailout parties in Sunday’s elections in Greece, and held one-on-one talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has resisted the president’s call for quick economic stimulus measures.

European officials downplayed any hopes of a quick solution to the worsening problems in the 17-nation eurozone, and bristled at the suggestion they need help.

“Frankly, we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy or in terms of how to run our economy,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

But Mr. Obama’s most-anticipated meeting of the day was a two-hour session behind closed doors with Mr. Putin, who snubbed Mr. Obama last month by skipping an international conference at Camp David. The Obama administration last week accused Moscow of contributing to the Syrian government’s slaying of pro-democracy protesters by selling military helicopters to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama issued a joint statement Monday agreeing for the need to end the violence in Syria, although Mr. Putin didn’t elaborate in his remarks to reporters, saying only “we’ve been able to find many commonalities” on issues including “the Syrian affair.”

Mr. Obama said they pledged to work with the United Nations and other parties to stop the killing of civilians.

“We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war and the kind of horrific deaths that we’ve seen over the last several weeks,” Mr. Obama said, while Mr. Putin bit his lip and stared at the floor.

On Iran, Mr. Obama said the two leaders “emphasized our shared approach” as members of the ongoing negotiations of the so-called “P5 plus one” group seeking to achieve full international inspections of Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities.

“We agreed that there’s still time and space to resolve diplomatically the issue of Iran’s potential development of nuclear weapons, as well as its interest in developing peaceful nuclear power,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Putin never uttered the word “Iran.”

Their statement also briefly touched on another source of tensions — a proposed missile defense shield in Europe. The U.S. and its NATO allies are proceeding with plans for a shield over Russian objections.

At a summit in March, Mr. Obama was caught in a “hot mic” moment asking then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for more breathing room on missile shield negotiations until after the U.S. elections in November. Unaware that a reporter was listening, Mr. Obama told the Russian he would have more “flexibility” after his presumed reelection, sparking a storm of criticism at home.

In their joint statement Monday, Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin said that “despite differences,” the two nations agreed “to continue a joint search for solutions to challenges in the field of missile defense.”

They also urged North Korea “not to commit acts that would escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula,” a reference to the North’s launch in April of a rocket that disintegrated shortly after liftoff. Analysts said the missile was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

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