Chill in the air as president, Putin put a gloss on summit
by IAN SWANSON, JEREMY HERB, AND JULIAN PECQUET
June 19, 2012
Mounting tensions between the United States and Russia were on full display Monday when President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with reporters after a meeting on the margins of the Group of 20 summit.
Putin and Obama met in one of the villas of the Las Esperanza resort in Los Cabos that afforded gorgeous views of the ocean, "but the mood was not cheerful," according to a White House pool report.
The two leaders made little eye contact as they talked to reporters, and both men gripped their wicker armchairs tightly. Tense smiles were infrequent.
Putin spoke briefly, and barely commented on Syria, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to help President Bashar Assad hold on to power.
"We also discussed international affairs, including the Syrian affair," Putin said. "From my perspective, we've been able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues. And we'll now further develop our contacts both on a personal level and on the level of our experts involved."
When Obama spoke, the pool report said Putin mostly starred downward, and made no eye contact with Obama. Syria was the last topic broached by the U.S. president. Putin "sat expressionless during this part of Mr. Obama's statement," according to a pool report. "He bit his lip and stared down at the floor."
The leaders released a 1,600-word statement after their meeting touting their cooperation on everything from the Iranian nuclear showdown to worldwide nonproliferation efforts.
But that effort belied the chill between the two.
On Syria, Obama said the leaders "agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war and the kind of horrific deaths that we've seen over the last several weeks." He also said the two had agreed to work with other international actors to try to find a resolution.
When Putin invited Obama to come to Moscow, Obama responded by saying he looked forward to visiting Russia again, but the pool report said "he turned so quickly toward the interpreter that you had to wonder."
Neither side mentioned the so-called Magnitsky bill moving through Congress. The legislation, named after a Russian lawyer who died while in police custody, would sanction Russian officials implicated in human-rights abuses. Russia has objected to the bill and the Obama administration opposes it, but lawmakers plan to link it to a bill providing permanent normal trade relations between the two countries.