By Jeremy Herb
The conflict between Washington and Moscow on Syria escalated last week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to Assad’s forces. Russian officials responded that the helicopters were not new and had been in Russia merely for repairs.
Violence in Syria escalated over the weekend as the U.N. observer mission was suspended.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Friday that the United States is not concerned with weakening Russia’s ties to Syria.
“It’s not our goal in Syria to eliminate Russian influence,” Rhodes said. “Our goal in Syria, again, is to stop the violence and to start a transition and have a government that is reflective of the democratic will of the people of that country.”
There have been loud calls in Congress for the Obama administration to do more in Syria, such as using airstrikes to create safe havens, and Obama’s 2012 presidential opponent, Mitt Romney, has called for the administration to arm the rebels.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has a speech scheduled Monday afternoon on Syria at the American Enterprise Institute, shortly after Obama and Putin are scheduled to meet, giving McCain a venue to weigh in.
The Obama-Putin meeting on Monday will be significant for another reason as well — it’s the first time the leaders will meet since Obama’s “live mic” gaffe, in which he asked then-President Dmitry Medvedev for more “flexibility” on missile defense until after his election.
The live-mic comments garnered just as much attention because of the response Medvedev gave, telling Obama he would “transmit this information to Vladmir.”
Congressional Republicans have hammered Obama for the missile defense comments, accusing him of making a “secret deal” with the Russians.
While Syria and the eurozone will be the main focus of the G-20 summit, on the other side of the globe the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group are getting under way once again.
The two sides are meeting in Moscow on Monday for the third round of talks this year.
On Capitol Hill, it’s a light week for the defense committees as the House returns from recess. The biggest highlight of the week will be the nomination of Brett McGurk to be ambassador to Iraq.
Republicans are calling on the White House to withdraw McGurk’s nomination, which was initially opposed for his inexperience but has been imperiled further by a series of emails released that detailed his relationship in Iraq with a Wall Street Journal reporter covering him, who later became his wife.
McGurk’s nomination is set to be considered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
That panel is also holding a hearing on implementing the New START nuclear arms treaty on Thursday, where Thomas D’Agostino, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, will testify.