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G20 members fail to heal rift over intervention in Syria


Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-09-06

Syria was the main topic of discussion during a dinner at the G20 summit in St Petersburg on Thursday. But with the forum going into its final day, there is no sign that world leaders are any closer to resolving their differences over the issue.

The international community seems no closer in bridging deep divides over the conflict in Syria as the G20 summit in St Petersburg, Russia enters its final day Friday.

US President Barack Obama had arrived for the summit on Thursday with the hope of winning support for armed strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar-al Assad following his alleged use of chemical weapons.

The US, France and Turkey are currently the only G20 members to commit to using force in Syria. Russia and China strongly oppose military action, while a host of other countries remain concerned about supporting military strikes without a UN resolution.

The G20’s formal programme for the St Petersburg summit centres around the global economy, but as tensions over the Syrian conflict threatened to torpedo discussions on other issues, host Russian President Vladimir Putin made a last-minute announcement for participants to air their views over dinner on Thursday evening.

The leaders took turns over three hours to reiterate their positions on the issue in 10-minute speeches, a diplomatic source close to the talks told AFP.

Afterward, a Tweet by Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta suggested the dinner had merely served to highlight the rift between the G20 members over Syria.

"The G20 has just now finished the dinner session at which the divisions about Syria were confirmed," he said.

First round to Putin as leaders voice concerns

Russia has led opposition to US-led military action against Syria over an alleged chemical attack on August 21 outside Damascus – which Washington says was perpetrated by the Assad regime – with Putin repeatedly blocking attempts at a UN resolution for military action.

And the first round of the summit seemed to go to the Russian president, with the European Union, China and the other emerging economies such as India and Brazil all warning of the dangers of military intervention in Syria without the approval of the UN Security Council.

FRANCE 24 on the ground in Damascus

“Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price – it will cause a hike in the oil price,” Chinese Deputy Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later told the leaders at the dinner that any military action must have the Security Council’s backing and pushed for the G20 members to arrive at a political solution to the Syria conflict as soon as possible.

“Let us remember: every day that we lose is a day when scores of innocent civilians die,” his office quoted him as saying. “There is no military solution.”

President Obama is now “looking increasingly isolated” as he attempts to push for military action against the Assad regime, said Annette Young, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in St Petersburg.

With Russia, China and others standing firm in their opposition to the US, there now seems to be very little chance of the G20 members reaching a consensus on the Syria issue, she said.

“As far as this summit is concerned we're not expecting any breakthroughs. Certainly the French advisers were telling us off the record last night that there’s no expectation of a deal.”

Russia ‘holding the UN hostage’

Meanwhile, as Obama struggled to make progress in St Petersburg, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power accused Russia of holding the UN Security Council "hostage" over the Syria chemical weapons crisis.

"Even in the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities," Power told reporters in New York.

She suggested that with Russia’s refusal to budge on the issue, the US had now given up hope of gaining UN backing for military strikes.

"We have seen nothing in President Putin's comments that suggest that there is an available path forward at the Security Council," the US envoy said.

The US Congress is expected to vote on whether or not to authorise US military action against Damascus when lawmakers return from their annual summer recess next week.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-09-06

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