Obama works to navigate tough waters
President expresses ‘skepticism’ on deal with Putin on Syria
HANGZHOU, China — President Barack Obama’s emissaries spent much of Sunday talking with Russian officials about how to quell the violence in Syria, but the president all but shrugged his shoulders when asked about the prospects of a successful deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Given the previous failures of cessations of hostilities to hold, we approach it with some skepticism,” Obama said, “but it is worth trying.”
Hours later, Obama engaged in delicate talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose military has clashed with U.S.backed fighters in Syria.
“We discussed ways in which we can further cooperate in that regard,” Obama said after his meeting with the crucial NATO ally, whose country is still reeling from a failed military coup and a wide domestic crackdown on suspected instigators.
Obama’s final presidential appearance at the Group of 20 world leaders summit here has been a complicated waltz of diplomacy with an array of difficult partners.
Despite the strained relationships, Obama is obligated by a long list of simmering world problems to engage with leaders from Erdogan to Putin, with whomWhite House officials say he is planning to meet. “You don’t negotiate deals with your friends,” his oftstated mantra goes, “you negotiate them with your enemies.”
Obama got a rough welcome to China on his 10th and final presidential tour of Asia.
As Air Force One taxied on the tarmac, Chinese officials were refusing to let the U.S. Secret Service wheel stairs to the plane so that Obama could make his usual President Barack Obama talks with delegates Sunday after a G-20 summit group photo. grand entrance from the front door. Instead, they ended up wheeling short stairs to a side door, where the traveling White House press corps could barely see him to record the moment.
An official of the Chinese delegation yelled at White House staff for allowing the press in the area at all and then physically blocked national security adviser Susan Rice and her deputy from moving closer to the arrival scene.
“They did things that weren’t anticipated,” Rice said later.
Much of the difficulty Obama is encountering on his trip was anticipated, however. Turkey, for example, repeatedly has tried to blame the U.S. in the weeks since the failed military-led coup against Erdogan.
Erdogan’s government has complained about the U.S. failure to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric who lives in selfimposed exile in Pennsylvania. Erdogan blames him for plotting the coup. Gulen denies the charge.
On Sunday, Erdogan was politely oblique. The U.S. and Turkey should adopt a “common attitude” against terrorism, he said.
Obama reassured the Turkish leader that the U.S. will work to make sure the parties responsible for the coup come to justice. He condemned the overthrow before quickly noting the need to “further cooperate.”
U.S. officials say they are awaiting sufficient evidence to justify Turkey’s request for the extradition of Gulen.
In the same way, Obama’s White House aides maintained a sense of reserve as Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an effort to work out a cease-fire between Syria’s government and at least some rebel groups as well as possible enhanced military cooperation between Russia and the U.S. in Syria.