Obama stands firm on Syria air strikes, G20 summit divided

Fri Sep 6, 2013 6:55am EDT
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By Steve Gutterman and Matt Spetalnick

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, Sept 6 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama defied pressure from fellow world leaders to abandon plans for air strikes against Syria, leaving deep divisions at a summit which overshadowed efforts on Friday to revive the global economy.

Leaders of the Group of Twenty (G20) developed and developing economies were expected to agree on a statement saying the world economy was not out of crisis but on the mend.

But Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin remained far apart on Syria after a dinner discussion on the civil war in the Middle East which stretched deep into Thursday night.

"There has been a long discussion with a clear split in the group," a G20 source said of the dinner in a Tsarist-era palace in Russia's former imperial capital, St. Petersburg.

Japanese officials said there was an "exchange of frank opinions" on Syria.

Washington says troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a poison gas attack which killed over 1,400 people in rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. But Moscow says there is no proof Assad's opponents were not responsible.

Unable to win United Nations Security Council backing for military action because of the opposition by veto-wielding Russia, Obama is seeking the backing of the U.S. Congress.

He stood firm in St. Petersburg, despite a warning by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the need to find a political settlement to end the war: "Every day that we lose is a day when scores of innocent civilians die," Ban said.   Continued...