Obama to press Putin on Syria when they meet Monday

President Obama will directly press Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop supporting Syria's government in a meeting Monday.

The White House said Obama would make an "interest-based" argument to Putin on the margins of the Group of Eight summit Monday. It's the first time Obama will meet Putin since last year.

“It's in Russia's interest to join us in applying pressure on [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad to come to the table in a way that relinquishes his power and his standing in Syria, because we don't see any scenario where he restores his legitimacy to lead the country,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters at the White House. 

“So we're fundamentally making an interest-based argument to the Russians that they can best protect their interests by being a part of a political settlement that is real and that enables a transition away from Assad's rule.”

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The Obama administration announced Thursday that it had concluded that Assad used chemical weapons against the Syrian opposition, crossing the president's so-called "red line." The declaration puts increased pressure on Russia to pull back its support for Assad ahead of a U.S.-Russian peace conference on Syria scheduled for next month.

The Kremlin has made it clear, however, that it's not convinced by the U.S. claims.

“I will say frankly that what was presented to us by the Americans does not look convincing,” Putin's foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said Friday. “It would be hard even to call them facts.”

A top lawmaker in Putin's United Russia party went further, accusing the Obama administration of fabricating evidence.

“Information about the usage of chemical weapons by Assad is fabricated in the same way as the lie about [Saddam] Hussein's weapons of mass destruction,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the international affairs panel in the lower house of Parliament, said on Twitter. He went on to say that Obama was “going the same way” as Bush.

Rhodes said the differences over Syria shouldn't prevent cooperation on other issues. 

“Frankly,” he said, “the type of relationship we have with the Russians is such that, even as we have disagreements – and even strong disagreements in some areas – we want to work together on issues where we do have convergence of interests.”

These include Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, arms control, missile defense and other security issues. They will also discuss counterterrorism cooperation in the wake of last month's Boston bombings by ethnic Chechens as well as “deepening our economic and commercial ties between our two nations.”


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