- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2013

President Obama left a high-level international summit Tuesday without having secured the major breakthrough on Syria he’d hoped to achieve.

At the Group of Eight meeting in Northern Ireland, Mr. Obama and other world leaders also came up short on efforts to close international tax loopholes, having produced a general statement of principles but little concrete action tied to them.

A broad “declaration” for closing down tax shelters and other steps included no binding commitments, The Associated Press said.

Moving forward, the legacy of this G-8 summit may be that it fueled tensions between the U.S. and Russia. Unless Russian President Vladimir Putin changes course on Syria — thus far he’s adamantly opposed efforts to arm rebels fighting that country’s president, Bashar Assad — U.S.-Russian relations could suffer and other shared goals between the old Cold War enemies could suffer, scholars say.

“I think it really is going to undermine the relationship between the two countries. It may have an adverse impact on other issues that are in dispute,” said William R. Keylor, a professor of international relations and history at Boston University. Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin will again meet at September’s G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

By the time that meeting convenes, the U.S. and its allies — chiefly Britain and France — will have moved forward with their plan to assist Syrian rebels in their struggle against Mr. Assad, who has used chemical weapons such as sarin gas against his people.

The White House announced last week that it will begin directly arming opposition forces and also continues to weigh a no-fly zone over Syria, a step Britain and France also are open to.

Brushing aside pressure from the rest of the G-8 nations, Russia continues its backing of the Assad regime. Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin sat down for a private meeting Monday evening, but neither man appeared to budge from his previous position. Unable to craft a policy statement on whether Mr. Assad must be removed from power or whether the rebels should be given military aid, the G-8 nations instead released a broad set of talking points.

“We are determined to work together to stop the bloodshed and loss of life in Syria and to support the Syrian people to establish peace and stability through political means,” reads a section of the position paper. “We remain committed to achieving a political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.”

World leaders also agreed to contribute another $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid to the Syrian people while decrying the “appalling human tragedy” that’s taken place.

Despite the joint statement, the U.S. once again finds itself leading international involvement in the Middle East. While Britain, France and other allies are onboard with arming rebel forces, Mr. Keylor and other observers say the lion’s share of the work will fall to the U.S.

“It’s going to be old Uncle Sam that does it,” Mr. Keylor said.

But the G-8 wasn’t all disappointment for Mr. Obama and other world leaders. The U.S. and Russia agreed to a nuclear arms deal, a continuation of the joint effort to secure loose nuclear material. The White House described it as a “new framework for cooperative threat reduction” that established a “baseline” for what the U.S. and Russia must do to advance nuclear security.

Mr. Obama and European leaders also announced the first round of talks on a landmark free trade deal between the two sides of the Atlantic. Those negotiations will begin next month. After the conclusion of the two-day summit, Mr. Obama flew to Berlin, where he’ll give a speech Wednesday in front of the famed Brandenburg Gate.