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(CNN) — U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, held what each man described Friday as a “constructive” talk about Syria, though there’s no indication it produced any breakthrough consensus.

What began as small talk after Putin approached Obama led to the two pulling up chairs in the corner of the room and talking almost entirely about Syria for 20 to 30 minutes, as other leaders watched, a senior Obama administration official said.

Afterward, Obama described the exchange on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Russia as “candid” — but acknowledged that Putin was unlikely to support his call for military action against Syria.

Putin gave reporters a similar account, adding, “He doesn’t agree with me, I don’t agree with him, but we listened to each other.”

Both leaders said they could work together to seek a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

The two men hold opposing views over whether military action should be taken against the Syrian government over its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people.

Obama is seeking to rally domestic and international support for a military strike, while Putin — an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — has challenged the assertion that regime forces were behind the alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Putin repeated the Syrian government’s accusation that “militants” used chemical weapons in a bid to get aid and support from “those countries who support them.”

He told reporters that Moscow will continue to provide Syria with arms and humanitarian aid.

He and Obama also talked about ways to solve the Syrian crisis peacefully, he said.

A statement issued Friday by a bare majority of the G20 — 11 of its 20 members — said that “the evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime.”

“Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable,” it said.

Obama said he believed most of the leaders at the G20 meeting were “comfortable with (the) conclusion that the Assad government was responsible” for using chemical weapons in an attack last month on a Damascus suburb.

But he said divisions arose over whether military action against Syria must be authorized by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has blocked action.

Citing Security Council “paralysis” on the issue, Obama said countries should be willing to act without the council’s authorization.

Obama: ‘World cannot stand idly by’

“If we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use, then an international response is required, and that will not come through Security Council action.”

But he said he was encouraged by the discussions in St. Petersburg. “There’s a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by,” Obama said.

The U.S. president showed emotion as he talked of the gassing on August 21 of what his country estimates was more than 1,400 people in Syria, 400 of them children.

“This is not something we fabricated, this is not something we are using as an excuse for military action. … I was elected to end wars, not start them,” he said. “But we have to make hard choices when we stand up for things we care about.”

Putin said the leaders in St. Petersburg were split nearly “50-50” over whether to intervene militarily.

He said that action against Syria without U.N. Security Council approval would be illegal. Russia and China, which has also opposed military intervention in Syria, have veto power.

But that need not rule out action, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Friday. “We cannot allow Syria to act with impunity because one or two countries refuse to hold them accountable in the Security Council,” she said.

The Syrian government has said that opposition fighters launched the attack on the outskirts of Damascus.

The United Nations has said more than 100,000 people — including many civilians — have been killed since a popular uprising spiraled into a civil war in 2011. That toll rose Friday, with the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reporting at least 64 people killed nationwide.

Tensions affect some U.S. staff in Lebanon, Turkey

As tensions ratchet up over Syria, the U.S. State Department on Friday ordered the withdrawal of nonessential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, and authorized nonemergency staff to leave a consulate in Adana in southern Turkey.

“Given the current tensions in the region, as well as potential threats to U.S. government facilities and personnel, we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities,” a statement said.

Many observers fear that the civil war in Syria, which has become increasingly sectarian in nature, could spill into neighboring countries.

The State Department also issued revised travel warnings Friday for Lebanon and Turkey, both of which share a border with Syria.

It urges U.S. citizens to “avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns” and to be “alert to the potential for violence” if traveling to or living in Turkey.

Many in Lebanon worry that the involvement of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Syria’s civil war could destabilize their own nation.

Lebanon has been shaken by a series of deadly bombings in recent weeks, including a blast in a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut.

Al-Assad warned this week that a regional war could break out if Syria is attacked.

“The Middle East is a powder keg, and the fire is approaching today,” he told French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview Monday.

Obama pushes for congressional action

Obama is seeking congressional approval for possible U.S. military strikes against Syria, although no vote is expected until after lawmakers reconvene from recess on Monday.

The president said Friday that he had expected skepticism from the public and from lawmakers.

He knew it was going to be “a heavy lift” when he announced Saturday that he was putting the proposal before Congress, he said, with some lawmakers foreseeing a “slippery slope” toward a prolonged U.S. involvement in Syria.

“For the American people who have been through over a decade of war now, with enormous sacrifice of blood and treasure, any hints of further military entanglement in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicion,” Obama said. “That suspicion will probably be even stronger in my party than in the Republican Party.”

The Syrian parliament has urged the U.S. House not to support the proposed U.S. military action, the country’s state news agency, SANA, said Friday.

In a letter addressed to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, his Syrian counterpart, Jihad al-Laham, called upon the House to communicate through civilized dialogue, not blood and fire, the news agency said.

He said Islamic extremists have seized and possess chemical weapons, SANA reported.

Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have both backed Obama, but Boehner has said it is up to the White House to get the 217 votes needed to secure his resolution there.

According to CNN’s count, 109 House members plan to vote “no,” while 23 — including a number of high-profile Republicans — plan to back it. More than 280 representatives remain undecided.

Syria offers rewards

Meanwhile, Syrian authorities are offering rewards, amounting to nearly $4,400, for handing over non-Syrian “terrorists,” Syrian state TV said Friday. The Syrian government often refers to rebels as terrorists.

Officials offered nearly $1,800 for reports on the whereabouts of these individuals or help leading to their arrest, the state broadcaster said.

The identity of those providing information would remain confidential, and they would be provided with protection, state TV said.

G-20: Where geopolitics trump economics

Posted by Rattana_S On September - 5 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Abu Dhabi (CNN) — During the height of the 2009 financial crisis, when there was a real and present danger of banks seizing up due to a lack of liquidity, the then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown altered the geopolitical architecture.

Brown moved with a sense of urgency to formalize the Group of 20 nations.

The strategy was sound. He wanted to bring countries representing 80% of GDP under one umbrella, bridge the gap between the developed and the developing world and, most importantly, tap the $4 trillion of surplus funds that still exist within the BRICS economies.

In the context of a financial crisis, the strategy worked. Four years later, however, geopolitics is trumping economics. The G20 has become an unwieldy group of countries with different priorities, and without political backing from Washington.

According to Brown, who I interviewed earlier this year, America “should actually be more alert to the possibilities of international cooperation in both trade and agreements for growth.”

A global trade agreement, the much-talked about pivot to Asia, and even serious concerns around capital flight out of emerging markets and their currencies will be overshadowed at this G20. Syria will be top of the agenda when the leaders convene in Russia’s western outpost of St. Petersburg.

Focus is on the tensions between host Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama. Their verbal jousting could further divide the G20, strategists suggest. The BRICS are, as a rule, not in favor of the military intervention being trumpeted by Washington and Paris.

“Business has taken a back seat and it should move to the front seat,” Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, chairman of the executive committee at the private equity group Abraaj told me. “Politics tops the agenda.”

The business agenda is headed by the near-panic reaction to a planned tapering of bond purchases by the U.S. Federal Reserve. Since Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke uttered word of that change in strategy back in May, money has been flooding out of emerging markets.

Ahead of this week’s summit senior Chinese finance officials went out of their way to suggest, during a news conference in Beijing, the Federal Reserve should be more cautious with its approach.

China’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao welcomed signs of the U.S. recovery but said Washington “must consider the spill-over effect of its monetary policy, especially the opportunity and rhythm of its exit from the ultra-loose monetary policy.”

The end of easy money or loose monetary policy in the U.S. is exposing the cracks in the emerging markets, which rode a decade-long, powerful wave of commodity-driven growth.

Without that export demand for grains, gold, palm oil, rubber, minerals and even manufactured goods, economies such as Brazil, India, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia have seen their current account deficits balloon and their currencies plummet.

The India rupee is down more than 20% this year, most of that loss in the past quarter alone, as the country posted the worst growth in four years. Brazil and Indonesia have seen their currencies tumble 10%, requiring central banks to use currency reserves and in some cases interest rate hikes to stop the bleeding.

The tendency is for investors to make comparisons to the 1998/1999 Asian financial crisis, when those economies had wide current account deficits and a mountain of foreign currency government debt.

“Most of Asia learned a lesson,” Marios Maratheftis, global head of macro research at Standard Chartered Bank told me. The bulk of emerging market debt is now issued in local currencies.

Maratheftis said the “sudden stop” of capital flows to the emerging markets will create problems for those with widening current account deficits, but that this should not develop into a crisis provided there is a greater coordination of policies.

He is not holding out great hope for the discussions in St. Petersburg. “They talk global when they meet,” he said of the G20. “But act local when they go home.”

US and Vietnam leaders discuss trade, rights

Posted by Nuttapon_S On July - 26 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang and US President Barack Obama have met for landmark talks in Washington.

Mr Sang is only the second Vietnamese president to have embarked on a White House visit since the two countries resumed ties in 1995.

The talks on Thursday focused on a trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership and human rights issues.

Relations have been improving between the former foes, amid the US strategic “pivot” to Asia.

“We all recognise the extraordinarily complex history between the US and Vietnam. Step by step we have been able to establish a degree of mutual respect and trust,” Mr Obama said.

Human rights activists, however, have criticised the visit, pointing out that Vietnam has been stepping up a crackdowns against government critics.

After the meeting, Mr Obama told reporters that both countries were “committed to the ambitious goal of completing [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] agreement before the end of the year”.

The pact “will be an extraordinarily ambitious effort to increase trade, commerce and transparency in terms of commercial relationships throughout the Asian Pacific region,” he added.


Several hundred demonstrators from the Vietnamese-American community rally outside the White House on 25 July 2013 in Washington, DC
Vietnamese-American protestors called for a greater focus on human rights

The two leaders also discussed “the challenges that all of us face when it comes to issues of human rights”, Mr Obama said.

“We emphasised how the United States continues to believe that all of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly,” he said.

Truong Tan San said: “”We touched upon the war legacy issues including human rights which we still have differences on.”

However, he said these issues should not prevent closer links between the two countries, and said he had invited Mr Obama to visit Vietnam.

Correspondents say at least 38 activists, including bloggers, have been arrested for anti-state activities in Vietnam this year.

Truong Tan Sang was elected to the largely ceremonial post of president in July 2011 by parliament.

He is a former mayor and Communist Party chief who was jailed by the US-backed South Vietnamese government in the early 1970s.

The last Vietnamese president who made an official visit to the US was Nguyen Minh Triet in 2007.

The Vietnam war, which lasted from 1955 to 1975, killed an estimated 58,000 US soldiers and three million Vietnamese.

This visit marks an important step in Vietnam-US relations, especially when Vietnam is seeking to safeguard its interests in the South China Sea, says the BBC’s Nga Pham in Bangkok.

Vietnamese officials have repeated many times that Hanoi is looking to upgrade the relationship with Washington to a strategic partnership in order to boost confidence and co-operation, our correspondent adds.

Vietnam is embroiled in a dispute with China over islands in the South China Sea known in China as Xisha but the Paracels elsewhere.

Beijing has controlled them since a short war with South Vietnam in 1974.

‘Obama keen to visit Thailand again’

Posted by Rattana_S On July - 21 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Revealing that US President Barack Obama was keen to visit Thailand again, Thai ambassador to the United States Chaiyong Satjipanon vowed to promote Thai tourism after Bangkok won the World’s Best City Award for the fourth year in a row.

Bangkok received 90.40 per cent votes for Best City from Travel+Leisure Magazine readers worldwide this year.

Chaiyong hosted a dinner party yesterday (Bangkok time) for Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra and his team who had gone to New York to receive the award. He urged Bangkok to defend the title for the fifth time next year too. Saying that a large number of American people visited Thailand each year and could adjust well to Bangkok, Chaiyong urged the city to solve the notorious issue of traffic jams.

He said the Thai embassy would host an event to promote tourism to Bangkok and revealed that even US President Obama had told him during a recent function that he would like to visit Thailand again.

Sukhumbhand said this award was a great honour and a great responsibility to maintain and develop Thai tourism further and said he would try to solve the problem of traffic jams in the city.