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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Syria Shadows Start Of G-20 Summit

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, reaches out to shake hands with U.S. President Barack Obama during arrivals for the G-20 summit at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. (Dmitry Lovetsky/AP)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, reaches out to shake hands with U.S. President Barack Obama during arrivals for the G-20 summit at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. (Dmitry Lovetsky/AP)

President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t be holding a one-on-one meeting at the economic summit in St. Peterburg, but they did share a handshake as President Obama arrived in Russia today.

President Obama is pushing for military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons, but Russia is one of Syria’s few allies and President Putin says it would be absurd for Assad to risk retaliation by killing his own people with chemical weapons.

How to respond in Syria will be the elephant in the room at this economic meeting.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, in for Robin Young.


And I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. We begin in Russia, where the G-20 summit is beginning today with Syria and the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons overshadowing everything on the agenda.

CHAKRABARTI: President Obama arrived for the summit in St. Petersburg today. He'll return to the U.S. this weekend ahead of next week's congressional debate over the use of military force against Syria. NPR's Corey Flintoff is covering the G-20. He joins us from St. Petersburg. And Corey, tell us what the feeling is there as the summit begins.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, there's a feeling that some of the really vital economic business of this summit may not get done because the leaders are so preoccupied with Syria. President Obama is not having a one-on-one meeting with his host, President Putin. And we know that they did meet, they shook hands, they smiled. They seemed to be putting a good face on things.

But instead of a one-on-one meeting with President Putin, President Obama is meeting with some Russian civil society groups, and that's a move that will call attention to Russia's human rights record, which is something that has always trigged an angry response from Russia. For his part, Putin seems to feel that he holds the high moral ground on Syria.

He's arguing that the United States has made this mistake before in Iraq when it went to war over weapons of mass destruction that turned out not be there. So - and Putin also holds veto power over the one thing that he says could make action in Syria legitimate, and that's the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

CHAKRABARTI: So obviously some profound tensions between President Obama and President Putin. But do you have a sense as to how much this Syria issue might actually interfere with the business at hand that the G-20 is supposed to be addressing, I mean economic business?

FLINTOFF: You know, it's not really clear. There are a few things that have actually been argued out in public for a - before anyone got to the G-20. One of the big issues of course is that emerging economies are fearful of the fact that the United States may stop pumping billions of dollars into the world economy by buying bonds.

Obviously the economy is better in the United States, it's better in Japan, even better in Europe, and those countries are feeling that it's time to stop some of the stimulus. But what that will mean is that a lot of foreign investment will start to be withdrawn from emerging economies, and those are economies like India or Indonesia or Brazil.

They've already started to feel the pressure and - you know, seeing their currencies decline, for instance. So those leaders are going to argue that the major developed countries need to be balanced, they need to be very clear and transparent about what they're going to do, and they need to let everybody know so that they don't start a panic.

CHAKRABARTI: Now as you know yesterday, when President Obama was in Stockholm, he basically said that it's the international community, it's the world that drew the red line on the use of chemical weapons. I mean, how - do you have any sense as to how other countries at the G-20 might be responding to that, Corey? I mean, is there any feeling that world leaders might line up behind President Obama?

FLINTOFF: You know, many of the key players are here, of course, but, you know, they could be quite divided. President Hollande of France is one of the few leaders who agrees with the idea of a military strike. Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain has been cut off by his own parliament. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are both here, and they're strong enemies of Syrian President Assad, but you also have a lot of leaders who simply would rather not get involved.

CHAKRABARTI: And Corey, just remind us, before the Syria crisis took center stage here, what was the overall goal for this meeting of the G-20?

FLINTOFF: Well, the overall goal for this whole year has been President Putin has - Russia of course has the presidency of the G-20 right now, and his goals have included increasing world employment through real development, reducing corruption, which is a big problem for all the emerging economies and especially for Russia, and generally of course restoring some sort of balance between the highly developed countries and the emerging economies as far as the flow of investment, foreign investment capital is concerned.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, NPR's Corey Flintoff is speaking to us from St. Petersburg in Russia. Corey, thank you so much.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Meghna, pleasure to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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