President Obama met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday in the midst of their public dispute over how to respond to a chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Mr. Obama told reporters at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, that his conversation with Mr. Putin was “candid.” And he said a looming United Nations report about chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime would make it tougher for Mr. Putin to oppose punishing Syria militarily.
“I said [to Mr. Putin], ‘Listen, I don’t expect us to agree on this issue of chemical weapons use,’ although it is possible that after the U.N. inspector’s report, it may be more difficult for Mr. Putin to maintain his current positions about the evidence,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Putin, who is blocking U.N. action against Syria, has said there is evidence that rebel groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad have used chemical weapons in the civil war.
The president said he also told Mr. Putin, “We both agree that the underlying conflict can only be resolved through a political transition.”
“And so we need to move forward together, even if the U.S. and Russia and other countries disagree on this specific issue of how to respond to chemical weapons use, it remains important for us to work together to try to urge all parties in the conflict to resolve it,” Mr. Obama said. “Because we’ve got 4 million people internally displaced, we’ve got millions of people in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon who are desperate and the situation’s only getting worse.”
Mr. Putin, who opposes Mr. Obama’s plans to conduct limited missile strikes against Syrian regime targets, told reporters they spoke for 20 or 30 minutes. He called their meeting “constructive” although they still disagree about a course of action in Syria.
Mr. Obama said he didn’t discuss the case of fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden with Mr. Putin. Russia granted asylum to Mr. Snowden last month, prompting Mr. Obama to cancel a formal one-on-one meeting with Mr. Putin in Moscow prior to the summit.