G20 summit divided over Syria

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The latest G20 summit has been just like the bad old days, with the Americans and the Russians not quite squaring up, but plotting all sorts of machinations to confound each other's plans.

Barack Obama cut a confused and rather despondent figure. Seeking to mark the end of a generally lacklustre presidency with what he sees as a humanitarian military intervention in Syria, he has been confronted by international ambivalence and, in the case of Russia and China, outright hostility.

Britain's House of Commons began the lukewarm backup, telling Obama, "good luck Baz, but you're on your own with this one". Attempts to rally support at the G20 have resulted in 11 countries supporting a statement calling for a "strong response". Which leaves 9 countries wanting either a weak response or no response at all.

Obama and President Putin met for half an hour, just to confirm that their stances on Syria were implacably opposed. Putin wilfully missed the point when asked what Russia was doing to aid Syria. "Will we be helping Syria? We will," he said. " And we are already helping – we send arms, we co-operate in the economic sphere."

Putin said that the poison gas attack in Syria could not be pinned on Assad, preferring to point the finger of blame at rebel forces. "Everything concerning the so-called use of chemical weapons is a provocation on the part of the fighters, who expect assistance from the outside," he argued, apparently willing to ignore the evidence.

Obama isn't even sure of support at home. He admitted that Congress might not back his desire for military intervention. "It's conceivable at the end of the day I don't persuade a majority of the American people that it's the right thing to do," he said. "And then each member of Congress is going to have to decide."

Assad and Putin look on in amusement at nations shackled by the democratic process.

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