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Obama, Hollande to face off with Putin over Syria

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-09-05

Syria is set to dominate the G20 summit, which begins in St Petersburg Thursday, as the US and France look to bridge deep divisions with Russia’s Vladimir Putin over the use of military force against Damascus.

US President Barack Obama and his French counterpart François Hollande are set for a showdown with Russian leader Vladimir Putin over military action in Syria as the G20 summit gets underway in St Petersburg Thursday.

Although the formal agenda of the meeting of world leaders – hosted by Putin – will be geared towards world economic growth, the deteriorating situation in Syria and the debate over the need for an armed intervention look certain to dominate.

Following the surprise vote by UK lawmakers last week that barred the country from participating in any armed intervention in Syria, France and the US are the main countries calling for military action over the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

However, Russia and China have repeatedly stood in the way of any attempts at securing UN Security Council backing for military strikes against the regime.

The US has suggested it is willing to act on Syria without a UN resolution, and took another step towards doing so on Wednesday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed a resolution authorising the use of military force.

Obama: International community's credibility on the line

Nevertheless, Obama is also seeking wider international support for an armed intervention.

Speaking during a trip to Stockholm on Wednesday, the US President claimed that the credibility of the international community was at stake.

"I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line," he said, referring to international rules banning the use of chemical weapons.

"My credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line and America and Congress's credibility is on the line."

But Obama faces a tough task if he is to convince Putin, a vocal supporter of the Assad regime, to back military action against Damascus.

Speaking on Russian state television Wednesday, Putin warned that if the US launches strikes against Assad without UN backing, it would be seen as an act of “aggression” by Russia.

“Only the UN Security Council can give approval for the use of force against another state," Putin said.

"Any other ways to justify the use of force against another sovereign and independent state are unacceptable and cannot be qualified as anything other than aggression."

The Russian president also suggested that Moscow might resume deliveries of sophisticated S-300 air defence missile systems to Syria if the US launches strikes.

“We have supplied some of the components, but the delivery hasn’t been completed. We have suspended it for now,” he said.

“But if we see that steps are taken that violate the existing international norms, we shall think how we should act in the future, in particular regarding supplies of such sensitive weapons to certain regions of the world.”

French opposition demands UN backing

Obama can at least depend on the support of France as he seeks to convince Putin over Syria. French President François Hollande has pressed for a military response since the alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21 that France and the US have blamed on the Assad regime.

Unlike the US, Hollande has opted not to put the issue before a parliamentary vote, since the French constitution does not require him to do so.

However, reservations about taking up arms without UN backing are traditionally greater in France than in the US, which makes winning over Putin a priority for Hollande.

At a debate in France’s National Assembly on Wednesday, members of the opposition UMP insisted they would not support military action in Syria without a UN Security Council resolution.

While condemning Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons as “barbarian, savage and inhuman”, Christian Jacob said France’s Socialist government had dug itself into a “diplomatic and military impasse”.

Pressing for a parliamentary vote, Jacob asked: "Where are our allies? Where is the UN Security Council resolution?

"There are a number of troubling similarities with Iraq. Nothing justifies such a radical change in our military and political diplomacy."

In an interview with France Info radio on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France would use this week’s G20 summit to try to convince Putin of the need to act over Syria.

“We will discuss [the matter] with the Russians, because they are an important player in the region,” he said. “Up until now they've been blocking things. If there's been an evolution that would be very desirable.”

Date created : 2013-09-05

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