Russian President Vladimir Putin described his evening meeting with President Barack Obama as “very constructive” and “surprisingly open.” It was their first formal meeting in two years.
Putin and President Obama scheduled the meeting for 30 minutes, but it lasted 90. Neither administration revealed specific details about the meeting, but the leaders discussed Ukraine and Syria. A White House correspondent said the men “disagreed on the role Syrian President Bashar Assad will have in resolving the civil conflict there.” He did say the meeting was productive.
“This was not a situation where either one of them was seeking to score points in a meeting,” stated one official. “I think there was a shared desire to figure out a way in which we can address the situation in Syria.”
Putin told reporters the two leaders “have a lot in common.” He also admitted that “disputes remain” and the men “have sound grounds to work on the points of concern together.”
During his speech, Obama insisted that Assad must be removed from power:
Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL [Islamic State], but realism requires a managed transition away from Assad into a new leader and an inclusive government that recognizes that there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.
We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder, that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism or prevent foreign meddling. In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.
Russia has been Assad’s top ally since the civil war broke out four years ago with Iran close behind. Since then, radical Islamic groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) broke out and now control a large portion of Syria and Iraq. While the world agrees ISIS needs to go, the majority disagree with Russia and Iran about Assad. They demand he remain in power.
In the speech, Obama did hint at a compromise with Iran and Russia about Syria. “Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully,” he declared. “The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict.”
“Given the situations in Ukraine and Syria, despite our profound differences with Moscow, the president believes that it would be irresponsible not to test whether we can make progress through high-level engagement with the Russians,” explained one U.S. official. “President Obama will take advantage of this meeting to discuss Ukraine, and he will be focused on ensuring Moscow lives up to the Minsk commitments. This will be the core message of this bilateral engagement.”
Putin requested the meeting last week.