Obama, Putin discuss Syrian conflict at South American economic summit

The Washington Post

President Barack Obama spent the last day of his final foreign trip attempting to make headway on one of the most painful aspects of his foreign policy portfolio: the civil war in Syria.

Just before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit opened its first formal session here in the Peruvian capital on Sunday, Obama spoke briefly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was standing by his seat at a massive circular table around which all the participants were arrayed.

The four-minute discussion, which a White House official described as "brief and informal," represented the first time the leaders had spoken in person since the Group of 20 convened in China in September.

Despite the short duration of the discussion, Obama and Putin delved into topics that included their disagreements over Ukraine and Russia's support for the Syrian government in an ongoing civil war, where the rebel-held enclave of eastern Aleppo has been under daily aerial assault for nearly a week. On Saturday, Syrian airstrikes there killed at least 20 people; meanwhile, Russia announced that day that it was launching an offensive in the northern rebel-controlled Idlib province and in central Homs province.

"Beyond pleasantries, the president urged President Putin to uphold Russia's commitments under the Minsk agreements, underscoring the U.S. and our partners' commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic matters and was referring to a peace deal signed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to end the crisis in Ukraine.

"On Syria, the president noted the need for Secretary (John) Kerry and Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov to continue pursuing initiatives, together with the broader international community, to diminish the violence and alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people."

The president and his top aides have been sharply critical of Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the atrocities his government has carried out in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, where about 275,000 people still remain. On Saturday, national security adviser Susan E. Rice condemned the destruction of all the remaining hospitals in eastern Aleppo, as well as several first-responder staging locations, by Assad loyalists.

"There is no excuse for these heinous actions," Rice said in a statement. "For years, the United States has worked with our international partners to support their relief efforts and provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people suffering as a direct result of Assad's war against his own people, which Moscow has aided and abetted. The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia in particular, bear responsibly for the immediate and long-term consequences these actions have caused in Syria and beyond."

The Washington Post

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