At G-20, insults, division
President Obama on Thursday confronted growing opposition at home and abroad to intervention in Syria as he arrived in St. Petersburg for a tense G-20 summit where diplomatic niceties were abandoned.
An emboldened Vladimir Putin welcomed Obama to his hometown in an encounter that laid bare the increasingly difficult relationship between the two men. In a snub, the Russian president declined to greet his American counterpart at the airport.
Instead, Putin and Obama exchanged a stiff handshake and fixed smiles for the cameras in front of the Konstantinovsky Palace. The encounter was watched closely because Putin the day before had broken an unwritten rule by calling U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry a liar over his testimony this week before Congress.
Speaking to his human rights council on Wednesday, Putin said, “He is lying, and he knows that he is lying.”
The insults continued, showing how the leaders of the world's 20 top economies were divided at the end of the first day of their Russian summit, the BBC reported.
A senior spokesman for Putin was reported to have told Russian journalists that Britain was “a small island no one listens to.”
Britain joined the United States in producing fresh evidence that lethal sarin nerve gas was used in the notorious chemical attack that killed as many as 1,300 in August.
The British claims were based on tests of clothing and soil samples that Prime Minister David Cameron said had been taken from the Damascus suburb and tested positive for sarin.
Russia, meanwhile, late on Wednesday delivered a report to the U.N. on a deadly sarin attack in March in an Aleppo suburb, which concludes it was carried out by Syrian rebels, not forces loyal to Assad, according to McClatchy Newspapers.
A statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website said the report included detailed scientific analysis of samples that Russian technicians collected at the site of the alleged attack, Khan al Asal in northern Syria. The attack killed 26.
At the U.N., the frustration of U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power was evident as she accused Russia of holding the Security Council hostage by repeatedly blocking resolutions.
She said the Security Council was no longer a “viable path” for holding Syria accountable for war crimes.
The prospect of military action against Syria crept into nearly every conversation as G-20 leaders huddled in St. Petersberg and overshadowed the global growth agenda. Opposition to proposed U.S.-French airstrikes was gaining significant international support.
Zhu Guangyao, the Chinese vice finance minister, feared a hike in gas prices. “Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price,” he said.
Even the European Union declared it too soon for military action.
In Washington, nearly a week into Obama's campaign to convince Congress that airstrikes are necessary, he has achieved little headway against a wall of skepticism on Capitol Hill, the Washington Post reported.
The president's challenge is made more difficult by the fact that the two parties are splintered on the issue — and that lawmakers say they are hearing virtually no support for an attack from their constituents.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., a libertarian who has taken on GOP hawks on National Security Agency surveillance and now Syria, tweeted Thursday: “If you're voting yes on military action in #Syria, might as well start cleaning out your office. Unprecedented level of public opposition.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is considering a plan to use U.S. military trainers to help increase the capabilities of the Syrian rebels, in a move that would greatly expand the CIA training being done quietly in Jordan, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.
Any training would take place outside Syria, and one possible location would be Jordan. The officials said no decision had been made.
The proposal to use the U.S. military to train the rebels — something the administration has resisted through more than two years of civil war — would answer the demands of some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to do more to train and equip the Syrian opposition.
In Syria, Al-Qaida-linked rebels battled for control of a predominantly Christian village north of Damascus. The hit-and-run attacks on the ancient village of Maaloula, one of the few places in the world where residents still speak Aramaic, highlighted fears among Syria's religious minorities about the growing role of extremists among those fighting in the civil war.