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June 14, 2013

Syria, conversation with Putin likely to top talks for Obama at Ireland summit

President Obama heads to Ireland Sunday for the annual G-8 summit and Syria -- where he's come under domestic and some international pressure to intervene -- will be tops on the foreign policy agenda.

The trip comes in the wake of the White House decision to send military support to the Syrian opposition after reaching the conclusion that Syrian President Bashar Assad crossed a red line by using chemical weapons against rebel forces. And Obama is likely to call again for assistance from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has remained a key ally of the regime in Syria, despite U.S. efforts to convince him otherwise.

Obama will meet with Putin on the first day of the summit and they "clearly have a very broad agenda to discuss," said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. That includes Syria, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, arms control, missile defense, and security issues, as well as "issues related to counterterrorism cooperation" -- the Russians say they alerted the FBI to possible terrorist connections to one of the Boston Marathon bombers --  "as well as deepening our economic and commercial ties between our two nations."

Obama is expected to talk to Putin about whether there's a way to forge a political settlement to Syria's civil war, but said that "there are no illusions that that's going to be easy," -- particularly given that the U.S. insists Assad must leave office; the Russians do not.


Putin, for his part, will be making his "return to the G-8," noted Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Affairs. Putin skipped the Obama-hosted G-8 at Camp David last year, and the last time he attended a G-8 was with President Bush.

The body language between the two is likely to be scrutinized for clues: "We're totally in speculation," Conley told reporters at a briefing Thursday. "I think if we see scowling and stiff body language, you will interpret that one way. If we see smiles and backslaps, you will interpret it in another way." Conley said she didn't expect to "see a lot ...unless they're really willing to signal a new direction."

The two leaders talked Syria when they met last June and sought to inject some bonhomie when they appeared before reporters, with Putin inviting Obama to visit Moscow. But Putin sat expressionless as Obama talked about what Putin called "the Syria affair," biting his lip and staring down at the floor. Putin was terse – Obama spoke nearly four times as long.



"The chemistry will be interesting, because the last time they met was pretty awful," said Matthew Goodman, a former Obama administration official and chair of CSIS's political economy program. "So, you know, I can't see how it could get worse."




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THE MIDDLE EAST (Including Syria) is the “Black Hole” of our planet that will accept and consume all and everything that is offered to it, which includes our Weapons, our Money and our Troops, with never a thought of any “Payback” or improvement within. The only thing we seem capable of improving in Syria, or any where else in the Middle East, is the Bank Accounts of its ersatz leaders.

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"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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