President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin had only a very brief interaction outside Konstantinovsky Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, where leaders of the world’s top economic power gathered for the G20 meeting.
After getting out of the limo, Obama and Putin shook hands and appeared to exchange small talk, but the U.S. president was inside the building within 15 seconds, according to the White House pool report. The pool report said the two appeared pleasant with one another despite a public spat over a number of issues.
The White House announced in July that there would be no bilateral meeting between the two leaders at the G20 meeting in Russia, as would be customary when the two leaders are in the same country.
Putin and Obama have had a rift, most recently over the coming U.S. attack on Syria in response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on his people that U.S. intelligence said killed 1,429 people. Putin has supported the Assad regime and has blocked international efforts against him.
But prior to that, the two were at odds when the Russian government granted one year asylum to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, now a fugitive facing U.S. espionage charges for leaking information about the NSA spying program to the media.
All of this despite the administration’s supposed “reset” line with Russia that was frequently talked about in the first Obama term.
Putin greeted each of the world leaders as they arrived.
Other leaders exited their limo and were in the building within 10 seconds, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin talked longer and were laughing, according to the pool report, which said no one was talking loud enough to determine what was said.
“We have nothing formally scheduled with President Putin in terms of a bilateral meeting,” White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters. “However, it’s always the case at these summits that leaders end up sitting next to each other; they end up having side conversations. So I certainly anticipate the president will have interactions with President Putin even as we don’t have a formal meeting scheduled and we’ll keep you updated on those conversations.”
One reporter referred to an earlier Putin interview. “Did the President hear anything in Putin’s interview that indicated any change of posture? And what will he say to Putin on these pull-asides when he sees him?”
Rhodes stressed that the two presidents have worked well on other issues.
“The U.S.-Russian relationship is very broad,” Rhodes said. “Even with the differences we’ve had — sharp differences on Syria — there’s continued cooperation on nuclear security issues, on transit in Afghanistan, on counterterrorism, and on global economic issues. So we will continue to address areas where we can work with the Russians.”
Rhodes added he expected Russia would continue to be an obstacle at the United Nations.
“Syria is an area where, even as we’ve had sharp differences, we believe Russia in the long term can be a part of a political process to bring the Assad regime to the table,” Rhodes said. “What we are highly skeptical of is the notion that Russia will take a different view at the Security Council — because for two years what we’ve seen is several Russia vetoes of Security Council resolutions that aimed to express disapproval or hold the Assad regime accountable. So thus far, we have not seen any evidence that Russia is taking a different approach towards the Syrian issue at the U.N. Security Council. Were they to do so, of course it’s our preference always to work through the U.N. Security Council on these issues, but we haven’t seen any change in the Russian position at the U.N. and are skeptical that given the current environment and given their relationship with Assad, we’re skeptical that that change is forthcoming.”
Obama’s first meeting was with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Each leader made a public statement to media before going into the bilateral meeting.
Abe’s focused only only economic matters, while Obama also addressed two national security concerns – North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and of course Syria.
“During the meeting, we’ll also have an opportunity to discuss a range of security issues, including our continued concern about the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the importance of North Korea abiding by international law,” Obama said.
“I also look forward to having an extensive conversation about the situation in Syria and I think our joint recognition that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only a tragedy but also a violation of international law that must be addressed,” Obama added.