President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged from two hours of talks Monday no closer to a compromise for curtailing a civil war in Syria that has killed more than 93,000 people.
“With respect to Syria, we do have different perspectives on the problems, but we share an interest in reducing the violence, securing chemical weapons and ensuring that they’re neither used nor are they subject to proliferation,” Obama said after meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Though Obama and Putin agreed on the need for peace negotiations between both sides in the Syrian civil war, the Russian leader has not called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. The anti-government rebels in Syria say they won’t take part in such talks until Assad leaves his post.
There was a noticeable discomfort between Obama and his Russian counterpart, but Putin wasn’t nearly as agitated as on Sunday, when he called the Syrian rebels “cannibals” after discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Last week, Obama decided to send small arms and ammunition to the Syrian opposition after months of resisting calls to do so. Putin remains a dependable ally of Assad’s, providing weapons to the Syrian regime and undermining calls from Obama and other U.S. allies for the leader to step down from power.
White House officials said Obama looked to convince Putin that he was supporting a leader with a limited future in Syria. But Putin was not convinced, especially given Assad’s gains on the rebels in recent weeks.
Also problematic for Obama, his decision to arm the Syrian rebels isn’t popular — at least domestically. A Pew Research poll released Monday showed that 70 percent of Americans are against the U.S. and its allies arming rebel forces, whereas just one in five respondents support such a move.