President Barack Obama said Monday that he and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, agree on the need for a political transition in Syria to prevent the conflict there from escalating into an all-out "civil war."
After huddling for two hours on the sidelines of a Group of 20 nations summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, the two leaders seemed eager to paper over rifts on a range of issues -- including Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's bloody 15-month crackdown on opposition to his rule.
"We discussed Syria, where we 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," Obama said after the talks.
"We pledged to work with other international actors, including the United Nations, Kofi Annan and all the interested parties in trying to find a resolution to this problem," Obama told reporters.
The media pool report, crafted by Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal, notes that "Mr Putin sat expressionless during this part of Mr. Obama's statement. He bit his lip and stared down at the floor."
Putin, who spoke first, said that the two leaders had discussed Syria as well as Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), and security issues.
"From my perspective we've been able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues," Putin said through an interpreter. "And we'll now further develop our contacts both on a personal level and on the level of our experts involved," Putin said. But "commonalities" on Syria are few and far between: Washington has sharply escalated its criticisms of Moscow for blocking U.N. and Arab League resolutions meant to force Assad to end his forces' repression of the opposition. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to Assad's regime, and the White House pressed Putin's administration to halt weapons shipments to Syria, which it has supplied for decades.
Russia has shown little inclination to bow to the Obama administration's pressure, and even leveled its own counter-accusation: That Washington has been arming Syria's rebels. Obama spokesman Jay Carney forcefully denied that charge.
Russia and China, as veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, can block any resolutions there. It was unclear whether the relatively cordial words spoken in Los Cabos would translate into action.
The White House released a written joint statement in which Obama and Putin called for "an immediate cessation of all violence" in Syria and expressed support for a peace plan crafted by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Carney has said in the past that Syria has failed to implement any of the key measures in that blueprint.
But the written statement urged steps toward a "political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syria's sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity."
"We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future," it said.