As President Obama touched down in St. Petersburg for the Group of 20 summit on Thursday, the White House said there are no plans for a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said there will be a chance for Mr. Obama to “have interactions” with other world leaders, including Mr. Putin, but there’s no scheduled sit-down between the two men.
Russia and the U.S. remain on opposite sides of the intense international debate surrounding military intervention in Syria. While the U.S. mulls military strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in retaliation for his use of chemical weapons, Russia continues to oppose such action and block efforts at the United Nations against its longtime ally.
Russian leaders also continue to cast doubt on whether chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime — a notion Mr. Rhodes dismissed on Thursday.
“We’ll continue to discuss with the Russians what our evidentiary basis is and what our degree of confidence in the fact that the Assad regime carried this out,” he told reporters. “But again, what we do not want to see is some ongoing debate about whether or not a chemical weapons attack took place that everybody saw with their own eyes on Aug. 21, and, similarly, we don’t want to entertain implausible theories.”
Mr. Rhodes said that while the White House sees no evidence Mr. Putin will change his stance on Syria, there is hope Russia can play a role in bringing peace to the war-torn country.
“Syria is an area where, even as we’ve had sharp differences, we believe Russia in the long term can be a part of a political process to bring the Assad regime to the table,” he said.