- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2012

President Obama said Tuesday he failed to persuade the presidents of Russia and China to support the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and laid part of the blame with them for the Syrian regime’s ongoing slayings of pro-democracy civilian protesters.

“We had a very candid conversation,” Mr. Obama told reporters as leaders of the Group of 20 nations ended a two-day summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. “I wouldn’t suggest that at this point the United States and the rest of the international community are aligned with Russia and China.”

Mr. Obama held one-on-one talks at the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao, and said Syria was a “major” topic of both meetings, with Mr. Obama seeking a way to topple Mr. Assad short of military intervention.

But Mr. Obama said Russia, which has a historical alliance with Syria, and China, which he called “wary” of commenting on other nations’ internal affairs, “have been more resistant to applying the kind of pressure that’s necessary to achieve that political transition.”

“But I do think they recognize the grave dangers of all-out civil war,” Mr. Obama said of his counterparts. “I do not think they condone the massacres we’ve witnessed. And I think they believe that everybody would be better served if Syria had a mechanism for ceasing the violence and creating a legitimate government.”

He said he would “keep making the argument” with Mr. Putin and Mr. Hu, and that he hoped to be able to present the Syrian people with a “pathway” in the next few weeks that would lead to a political solution.

The two-day conference ended much as it began, with Mr. Obama coming up short of a solution to the bloodshed in Syria, and with the debt crisis in Europe still unresolved.

European officials said they are working on a gradual overhaul of the eurozone and its banking system, as financial markets put pressure on the 17-nation currency zone for a more rapid solution. European heads of state said they are looking at ways to integrate their banking sectors, with more action possible at a meeting next week in Brussels.

In a final communique, world leaders said they would take “all necessary measures” to protect the euro area. The G-20 leaders said they welcomed Spain’s plans to infuse its banks with more capital. The summit took place as Greece attempts to form a coalition government and as Spain’s borrowing costs soared.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said he was encouraged by the progress made by Europe’s leaders toward a stronger “banking union” that will enable troubled countries like Greece, Spain and Italy to borrow money at low interest rates.

“What this means is a framework of reforms so they can stand behind their banks, provide capital to the banks that need it, make sure they’re protecting the savings of their depositors,” Mr. Geithner said.

And Mr. Obama said he, too, was encouraged by the “sense of urgency” displayed by eurozone officials.

“I don’t want to sound pollyanish here,” Mr. Obama said. “Resolving the issues in Europe is difficult. There are a lot of players involved,” adding that the eurozone was originally created as “a currency union that didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles.”

“But the tools are available,” Mr. Obama added. “The sense of urgency among the leaders is clear. What we have to do is combine that sense of urgency with the tools that are available and bridge them in a timely fashion that can provide markets confidence. I think that can be done.”

He said the most positive development is that “Europe is moving toward further integration rather than breakup.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a critic of Europe’s slow pace of reform, said the European Union now is addressing the issues needed to resolve its problems.

“What will be important, what we’ll be watching for next week and going forward will be the concerted, coordinated action that will actually make these things happen,” Mr. Harper said.

Asked whether he was concerned that Europe’s economic problems could hurt his re-election chances, Mr. Obama instead turned the conversation toward Republican lawmakers in Congress who have blocked most of his $447 billion jobs package.

“The most important thing we can do is something I’ve already talked about — if Congress would act on a jobs plan,” Mr. Obama said.

“We don’t have full control over what happens in Europe or the pace at which things happen in Europe,” he said. “Let’s make sure that we’re doing those things that we do have control over and are good policy anyway.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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