Syria, NSA scandal push G20 summit agenda

    NSA spying program. At the Konstantinovsky Palace – where the first day of the G20 summit kicked off – the world’s largest economic powers braced for political battles, RT’s Aleksey Yaroshevsky reported from Strelnya. The situation in Syria took center stage in summit discussions, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opening call to “not mix up and bundle” economic and political issues. The two-and-a-half year conflict escalated after a chemical weapons attack took place outside of Damascus on August 21. The US believes it has evidence connecting the Syrian government to the attack. All eyes are currently on Congress as it decides whether to support a US strike on Syria. Although a meeting on Syria was not officially scheduled to take place at the summit, Putin suggested leaders spoke about the topic at dinner.

    Putin’s words came soon after his much anticipated handshake with US President Barack Obama. Recently strained Russian- American relations have become another focus of the media’s attention. The two leaders are not scheduled to meet privately in St. Petersburg. However, neither Washington nor Moscow have ruled out the possibility of discussing pressing bilateral issues on the sidelines of the summit. Syria on everyone’s mind At the G20 dinner, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the situation in Syria, urging that any response to alleged chemical weapons use in Syria first go through the UN. “I sincerely hope that all the leaders of the five permanent Security Council members and some non-permanent members who are now here fully meet their obligations to the Syrian people,” Ban said. The Secretary General earlier stated that the UN values the cooperation and assistance of the Syrian government regarding the investigation in Syria.

    The US has accused Russia of holding the UN Security Council (UNSC) “hostage” over Syria by blocking the White House’s push for support in the UNSC. “Even in the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities,” US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told reporters. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, stated Russia’s position on Syria to reporters. He called for Russia’s partners, including the US, to take part in an “objective assessment of the situation,” dismissing the idea that Russia blocks the work of the UN Security Council on the Syrian conflict. Only after UN investigators have their say on the alleged chemical attack in Syria would it be possible to say who perpetrated the attack, Peskov stressed. He added that Russia “cannot accept the proof that, in our view, is not a proof at all, that is far from being convincing.” Amid speculations that President Obama has arrived in St. Petersburg to gain support on launching a“punitive” strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad, Italian Premier Enrico Letta stated that the G20 summit is the “last opportunity” for finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis, adding that concerns over the situation there has hit “maximum” levels.

    This could well sum up the notions coming from the briefings, bilateral meetings, and joint talks of the BRICS group during the summit’s first day. Obama started off the event by meeting with French President Francois Hollande, the only remaining European supporter of a strike on Syria. Meanwhile, Putin met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has consistently called for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told RT at the summit that it is “vitally important” that any move on Syria be based on the UN investigation, stressing that China is “against the use of chemical weapons by any countries or organizations.” “China and Russia are both appealing to the countries concerned to be serious about the possible consequences of the use of military means without the mandate of the UN Security Council,” Qin added. Leaders of the BRICS group, which includes the economies of Russia, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, then jointly expressed their concerns that a military strike against Syria could have “an extremely negative effect” on the global economy

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