The Washington Times - March 10, 2012, 09:24AM

President Obama called Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin Friday to congratulate him on his election, and the two leaders pledged to work together on areas of common ground even as the U.S. and Russia continued to publicly clash over what action to take in Syria, according to a White House read-out of the phone call released Friday night.

The call came as the Russian government continued to object to the latest U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an end to the violence in Syria over language it believes is biased against the government in Damascus.


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Friday appealed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for flexibility from Moscow and said she would be speaking with him again at the United Nations on Monday on the sidelines of a special Security Council session on the Arab Spring.

Russia and China already blocked two earlier U.S. led U.N. resolutions aimed at quelling the bloodshed in Syria. As the death tolls rise, the Obama administration is under increasing pressure to stop Syrian President Bashar Assad from continuing to slaughter those opposing his regime.

But Chinese officials have recently hinted at a possible change in position, and U.S. and European diplomats had suggested that Mr. Putin might be ready to compromise.

“We had hoped [and] we continue to hope that with their own elections behind them, that Russia can do more now to pressure Assad,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, calling the Assad regime “a mafia-like crime family.”

She said Syria is now “topic one, two and three” in U.S. administration talks with Russia.

The White House read-out of the call only gave a passing reference to Syria and the “differences” between the U.S. and Russia, focusing instead on areas of agreement in recent years.

Mr. Obama highlighted several instances of cooperation on Afghanistan, the ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 2010, and Russia’s recent invitation to join the World Trade Organization, as well as cooperation on Iran.

The two leaders also agreed to continue to build on those successes, and Mr. Obama said he looked forward to hosting Mr. Putin at the G-8 economic summit, which will be held May 17 and 18 and was recently switched to Camp David, the president’s retreat in the Maryland countryside.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin also outlined areas for future cooperation, including strengthening trade and investment relations arising out of Russia’s pending accession to the WTO, and agreed to continue discussions on areas where the U.S. and Russia have differed, including Syria and missile defense.