President Obama and Vladimir Putin agreed today on the need for a political process in Syria to prevent civil war in the violence-torn country in a much-awaited one-on-one meeting at the G20. The two leaders met for two hours, and emerged emphasizing their commonalities. Highlights:
- On Syria: Obama said that the two "agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war and the kind of horrific events that we've seen over the last several weeks, and we pledged to work with other international actors, including the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and all interested parties in trying to find a resolution to this problem." Putin, seated next to Obama following their two-hour meeting, said: "From my perspective we've been able to find many commonalities" on Syria.
- The elephant in the room: Neither leader mentioned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by name in their public remarks or in a joint statement issued after their meeting, thus avoiding any express reference to past US demands that Assad step down. The joint statement said: "We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future.
- On Iran: Obama and Putin discussed diplomatic efforts to head off a confrontation with Tehran. Obama said he emphasized a common approach to Iran, asserting there was "still time and space to resolve diplomatically" concerns about nuclear weapons.
- What's on deck at the G20: Much of the rest of the summit was to be devoted to the European fiscal crisis and the fate of Greece as a part of the eurozone.