Obama 'wants political solution'
on 06/09/2013 15:18:27
The two leaders spoke after meeting in St Petersburg on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
Mr Hollande has backed Mr Obama's call for US-led strike in Syria, but French officials say they are waiting for the outcome of a vote in Congress and will not proceed alone.
Mr Obama said both countries concluded president Bashar Assad's regime used chemical weapons against civilians and that any action they take would be limited. He added that he and Mr Hollande discussed getting support for action in Syria from other European leaders since he said it is clear many agree that international prohibitions on chemical weapons must be upheld.
The two held talks as the Syrian government dispatched reinforcements including tanks and armoured personnel carriers to a predominantly Christian village north of Damascus where rebels have clashed with regime troops.
Opposition fighters led by an al Qaida-linked rebel faction attacked the mountainside sanctuary of Maaloula on Wednesday, and briefly entered the village a day later before pulling out in the evening.
The assault has spotlighted fears among Syria's religious minorities about the prominent role of Islamic extremists in the rebel ranks fighting to overthrow Assad.
The government forces sent to Maaloula have taken up positions outside the village, which is still under the control of local pro-regime militias, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The assault is being spearheaded by Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the most effective rebel factions and a group the United States has deemed a terrorist organisation. The group includes Syrians as well as foreign fighters from across the Muslim world.
The Syrian government has tried to emphasise the role of foreigners fighting on the rebel side as part of its narrative that the Assad regime is battling a foreign-backed conspiracy.
In that vein, Syrian state television said Friday the government is offering 500,000 Syrian pounds (£2,800) for turning in a foreign fighter, and 200,000 Syrian pounds (€1,780) for information about their whereabouts or assistance in their capture.
The G20 summit's host, Russia, is staunchly opposed to any Western action against Syria. The Kremlin has continued its decades-long alliance with Damascus throughout the civil war, backing Assad militarily, economically and diplomatically.
Russia's Interfax news agency said Moscow had three naval ships moving toward Syria in the eastern Mediterranean and another en route from the Black Sea. The agency said two amphibious landing crafts and a reconnaissance ship have already passed through the Dardanelles, while another landing vessel left the Black Sea port of Sevastopol this morning for the Eastern Mediterranean with "special cargo".
Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said Russia is boosting its naval presence in the Mediterranean "primarily" to organise a possible evacuation of Russians from Syria.
Reports of increased Russian naval presence near Syria have stoked fears about a larger international conflict if the United States carries out air strikes.
In Damascus, the Syrian state news agency SANA said the speaker of parliament, Mohammad Jihad Laham, urged the US Congress to engage in a "civilised" dialogue with Damascus rather than resorting to a dialogue of "fire and blood".
Mr Obama met Russian president Vladimir Putin privately at the G20 summit in the midst of their dispute over how to respond to chemical weapons use.
Mr Putin told reporters they spoke for 20 or 30 minutes and focused on the Syrian crisis. The Russian president said that while they disagreed, the meeting was constructive.
The White House confirmed the meeting but offered no details.
Meanwhile, the United Nations envoy for Syria met foreign ministers at the G20 to push for a political solution for Syria.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League envoy for the Syrian crisis, had a working breakfast with ministers from Russia, Canada, France, Germany and Turkey among others.
Speaking to reporters, he emphasised the need to wait until UN inspectors complete their analysis of the chemical attack. He said the work "has to be completed according to scientific standards", but did not say when this might be done.
Mr Brahimi warned against using force without the UN Security Council's approval and called for further efforts to stage a Syria peace conference.