U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not come to any breakthrough over Syria after their first meeting in more than two years, signs that the “reset button” strategy of Obama’s first term has not been successful. The two leaders met after both leaders tried to upstage each other at the tradition of speeches by world leaders at the United Nations opening session on Monday.
Obama, for his part, indirectly blasted Putin before the meeting, saying that Putin and embattled Syrian leder Bashar al-Assad are looking backwards in humanity by ignoring international institutions dedicated to prevent further conflict. Putin fired back, saying the Middle East chaos and the failure of the Arab Spring were direct results of the United States trying to impose its democracy on the world. Both men’s choice of rhetoric stems from the recent actions by Russia to increase its military presence in war-torn Syria, thwarting American plans to use diplomacy to force Assad from power and avoid continued bloodshed, as well as diminish ISIS’ role in the region.
American diplomats have insisted Syria’s future cannot include Assad, while Putin seeks to increase his strength with America’s enemies in Iran and Syria. As the meeting ended, with an awkward handshake, the two leaders left exactly where they started, with no breakthrough on the most important issue between the two countries.
Despite the failure to come to terms on Syria, both sides said the meeting was productive in regards to keeping relations open. The 90-minute summit, originally planned for 60 minutes, had Putin stating there was little reason to think the two sides cannot continue to work together.
“Strange is it may seem, there were many common points,” Putin told reporters. “There were also disagreements which we agreed to work together. I hope this work will be constructive.”
American officials said both Putin and Obama agreed to continue to find a resolution to the civil war that has left over 250,000 people dead and scores more seeking refuge in Europe and abroad, even though they remain miles apart on the status of Assad as leader.
Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Obama’s position that there can be no peace without Assad out of power because the Sunni majority in the Levant nation will not accept him as a leader.
“We have staring us in the face here an enormous possibility to see a way forward,” Kerry said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program.
Last week, Russia thwarted America’s plan for diplomacy in the crisis by increasing troop and equipment presence in the nation. Putin said the movement was part of a plan to dismantle ISIS, suggesting airstrikes could be in the near future. The Obama Administration has tried to use sanctions and financial backing to Syrian rebels to try and counter ISIS’ and Assad’s hold in the area.
While Obama has stressed continued cooperation among allies, with targeted airstrikes to weaken ISIS’ ability to get further involved in the civil war, Putin has announced his own alliance with Iran, Assad’s government in Syria, and Iraq to combat the ever-growing terrorist organization.
This meeting continues a downward trend of relations between the two nations that started towards the end of the previous administration despite the famous “reset button” symbolism by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At the time, Clinton stressed a return to a friendly relationship for the two former enemies, trying to peg the deterioration on then-President George W. Bush. Since then, the two nations have been unable to meet on common grounds over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its military and financial support of rebels in Ukraine, and economic movements by Russia to thwart the U.S. Dollar in favor of a basket of currencies. Obama’s administration has countered with sanctions that have decimated the Bear’s economy, especially in Moscow, and support for its expulsion from the then-G8 Group of Nations economic organization.
This has led to frosty meetings between the two in the past and, sometimes, Obama shoving Putin out of discussions with other leaders. During Monday’s meeting, the two were seen toasting each other at lunch, clinking their glasses without expression. Before the private talks began, the two shook hands, said nothing, and left to the meeting.