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Paris attacks and Syrian crisis dominate G20 meeting in Turkey


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Paris attacks prompt Syria talks

Diplomats meeting in Vienna agree on a timeline for a political transition in Syria that is aimed at ending the country’s civil war.

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Belek, Turkey: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama spoke for more than 30 minutes during an informal meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Turkey on Sunday, according to a tweet posted by a Kremlin insider.

President Barack Obama greets Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey on Sunday.

President Barack Obama greets Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey on Sunday. Photo: Susan Walsh

In the tweet, Svetlana Lukash, said the two leaders spoke for over half an hour during the first break of the conference, which was dominated by Friday night’s Paris terrorist attacks and the ongoing Syrian conflict. 

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Mr Obama and Mr Putin, who have no formal bilateral meeting planned at the summit, were also photographed shaking hands as they moved into place for a group photo with other leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at the G20 Summit in Antalya.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at the G20 Summit in Antalya. Photo: Mikhail Metzel

Mr Obama used the summit to renew his commitment to eliminating Islamic State in Syria and prevent it from carrying out attacks like those in Paris, while European leaders urged Russia to focus its military efforts on the radical Islamists.

Speaking at the summit, Mr Obama described the killings in Paris as an attack on the civilised world and said the United States would work with France to hunt down those responsible.

The two-day summit brings Mr Obama and fellow world leaders just 500km from Syria, where a four-and-a-half-year conflict has transformed Islamic State into a global security threat and spawned Europe’s largest migration since World War Two.

“Traditionally the G20 has been a forum primarily to discuss economic issues facing the globe … (but) the sky has been darkened by the horrific attacks that took place in Paris just a day and a half ago,” Mr Obama said in a statement after meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

“The United States and its allies will redouble efforts to find a peaceful solution in Syria and prevent Islamic State militants from perpetrating attacks like those in Paris.”

Mr Obama and his Western allies now face the question of how the West should respond after Islamic State again demonstrated it posed a threat far beyond its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

Washington already expects France to retaliate by taking on a larger role in the US-led coalition’s bombing campaign against Islamic State.

But European Council President Donald Tusk said Russia too should focus its military operations on Islamic State, rather than on the Syrian opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad, urging cooperation between Washington and Moscow.

“It should be our common aim to coordinate our actions against Daesh (IS) and for sure the cooperation between the United States and Russia is a crucial one,” he said.

The road ahead for Syria  

Russia joined the conflict over a month ago with air strikes in Syria, but has been targeting mainly areas controlled by the moderate Syrian opposition fighting Mr Assad, its ally, rather than Islamic State, its critics say.

Turkey and Western allies, by contrast, want Mr Assad out.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he welcomed the renewed sense of urgency to find a solution to the war in Syria after the Paris attacks, adding the world had a “rare moment” of diplomatic opportunity to end the violence.

The US President is also seeking to coax other European and Middle Eastern countries into more tangible steps to show their military commitment and will hold a bilateral meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, US officials said. In a call late last month, the two leaders affirmed the need to cooperate in fighting Islamic State.

Mr Obama said he had also discussed in his meeting with Mr Erdogan the progress made by foreign ministers in Vienna, who on Saturday outlined a plan for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, although differences over Mr Assad’s fate still remained.

Migration concerns

The coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris on Friday puts Mr Obama and other leaders of the world’s major economies under increased pressure to find common cause.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Washington itself has an appetite for much deeper involvement after already stepping up air strikes and committing small numbers of special operations troops to northern Syria to advise opposition forces in the fight against Islamic State.

The Paris carnage also poses a major challenge for Europe, with populist leaders rushing to demand an end to the flow refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

In a diplomatic coup for Europe and for Turkey, the G20 leaders will agree that migration is a global problem that must be addressed in a coordinated way, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters, although it has yet to be accepted by all and is due to be published only on Monday.

Europe and Turkey, the most heavily hit by the crisis, had been pushing for the G20 to recognise the issue as a global problem and help to deal with it financially, despite opposition from China, India and Russia. A million migrants from the Middle East and Africa are expected to come to Europe this year alone.

According to a separate statement due to be released later on Sunday, a draft of which was also seen by Reuters, they also agreed to step up border controls and aviation security in the wake of the Paris attacks, which they condemned as “heinous”.

The summit follows not only the Paris attacks but also comes two weeks after a suspected bomb attack on a Russian airliner killed 224 people in the Sinai Peninsula.

It also comes just over a month after two suspected Islamic State suicide bombers blew themselves up in Ankara, killing more than 100 people in Turkey’s worst such attack. 

Reuters



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