By Kathleen Hennessey
Los Angeles Times
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – President Obama arrived here Thursday for a summit of world leaders that will be dominated by discussion of U.S. preparations to attack Syria and the president’s attempts to find some measure of support from the G-20 nations.
But Obama’s Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was not there to greet him at the airport and didn’t send a high-ranking delegate. Instead, Putin met Obama as 33 world leaders checked in to begin two days of official meetings of the Group of 20 major economies, both smiling as they shook hands and chatted for just a few seconds.
Putin, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has expressed skepticism that his government would have launched a reported Aug. 21 chemical attack on the Damascus suburbs.
White House officials said the two leaders had no plans for a meeting, underscoring the dashed hope that Putin’s role as host would bring about a warming in relations and a possible break in the U.S.-Russia impasse over the Syrian civil war.
Putin has been put out with Obama for canceling a one-on-one meeting in Moscow after Putin refused to extradite Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contract employee who leaked details of U.S. surveillance programs.
Obama was making telephone calls to foreign leaders and will use the summit, ostensibly about economic issues, to press his case for a strike against Syria.
“We would not anticipate every member of the G20 agreeing about the way forward in Syria, particularly given the Russian position,” said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, who talked to reporters on Air Force One during the flight to Russia from Sweden.
Obama will, however, “explain our current thinking” to allies and partners and explore what type of “political and diplomatic support they may express for our efforts to hold the Syrian regime accountable,” Rhodes said.
Obama’s first meeting at the summit was with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who thanked Obama for reaching out to him by telephone to discuss the situation in Syria.