President Obama and other world leaders at the G-8 summit Tuesday agreed in calling for an end to the two-year civil war in Syria, but the U.S. and its allies could not convince Russia to unite behind a call for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
As expected, Russian President Vladimir Putin would not explicitly endorse an agreement to force Assad, his longtime ally, to step down from power. In other words, the gathering of leaders from the largest industrial nations produced no major breakthrough on a civil war in Syria that has amassed more than 93,000 deaths and counting.
Instead of putting heightened pressure on Assad, the leaders chose to keep the focus on the atrocities in Syria.
“We strongly support the proposal for a conference to reach a political solution to the appalling conflict in Syria through full implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communiqué,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “We will contribute generously to the latest United Nations appeal for humanitarian help. We condemn in the strongest terms any use of chemical weapons and all human rights violations in Syria. We are committed to leading international support for Libya’s security and democratic transition and to urgent work for a lasting peace in the Middle East.”
Such language won’t appease those looking for a heightened international response to the bloodshed in Syria. Showcasing their schism on the issue, Obama and Putin Monday could not reach a consensus for how to bring Assad’s regime and the Syrian opposition to the negotiating table.
For its part, Russia on Tuesday dismissed U.S. claims of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime as “unproven” and called for further investigation. The U.S. estimates that the deployment of chemical weapons — Obama’s so-called red line for intervention — has directly caused at least 150 deaths in Syria.
Obama, who has agreed to provide small arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebels, bristled at the suggestion that lives would have been saved had the U.S. intervened sooner.
“This argument that somehow we had gone in earlier, or heavier in some fashion, that the tragedy and chaos taking place in Syria wouldn’t be taking place, I think is wrong,” Obama told PBS’ Charlie Rose during an interview that aired Monday night.
The G-8 agreement doesn’t outline any plan to provide the Syrian opposition with weapons, a calculation that reflected Putin’s concerns about doing so.
“Any decisions to provide the opposition with weapons based on unconfirmed accusations against Damascus of using chemical weapons will only further destabilize the situation,” Putin said at a news conference in Northern Ireland.