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Syria overshadows G-20 summit as world leaders meet

9:03 AM, Sep 5, 2013   |    comments
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By David Jackson and Zach Coleman, USA TODAY

President Obama renewed efforts Thursday to persuade global allies to back a military strike on Syria over the use of chemical weapons.

Attending a G-20 summit in Russia otherwise devoted to the global economy, Obama said before a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he looked forward to "an extensive conversation" about Syria.

That includes "our joint recognition that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only a tragedy but also a violation of international law that must be addressed," Obama said.

The formal economic agenda at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg includes international tax treaties, banking reform and global trade.

Several world leaders -- including the G-20 host, Russian President Vladimir Putin -- oppose military action in Syria. Putin has challenged the Obama administration's claims that Bashar Assad's government was behind an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack against Syrian rebels.

On Thursday, a United Nations spokesman said that Lakhdar Brahimi, special envoy of the U.N. and Arab League on Syria, would travel to St. Petersburg to rally efforts to convene a peace conference in Geneva. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "A political solution is the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria."

Putin has warned that any military intervention against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad without the express consent of the U.N. would amount to an act of "aggression." But Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, told the Voice of Russia that the Russian president does not plan to meet Brahimi.
Putin also said this week he doesn't exclude supporting U.N. action, but it must be proven that the Syrian government used poison gas on its own people.

Obama and his Russian counterpart do not have a formal meeting scheduled during the two-day summit, but it is possible the two leaders could chat at some point. They shook hands and smiled during a G-20 welcoming ceremony early Thursday.

Last month, Obama canceled a one-on-one summit with Putin after Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

"It's always the case at these summits that leaders end up sitting next to each other; they end up having side conversations," said National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes. "So I certainly anticipate the president will have interactions with President Putin even as we don't have a formal meeting scheduled."

China, too, has voiced its disinterest in an attack on Syria. "Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price," Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told reporters at the summit.

Obama does have the backing of some foreign leaders, including those of France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The president is also seeking authorization from the U.S. Congress for military action in Syria designed to degrade the nation's chemical weapons capability.

During a news conference Wednesday in Stockholm, Obama said most nations support a ban on chemical weapons use, and the attack in Syria requires an international response.

"My credibility is not on the line," Obama said. "The international community's credibility is on the line. And America and Congress's credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important."

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize President Obama to use limited force against Syria, after adopting amendments from Sen. John McCain designed to urge Obama to "change the military equation on the battlefield."

Beyond Syria, activist groups are pleading with leaders to join forces to tackle corruption and tax-avoiding corporations, seeking to stabilize the global economy and promote economic growth.
One key item up for discussion is on a pact on combating tax evasion and tax avoidance.

The U.S. and several European countries are pushing for an agreement on sharing information to catch tax dodgers that is likely to build on the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. The law, passed last year, requires foreign financial institutions to report to the U.S. about American account holders.

G-20 members are also taking aim at the kind of profit-shifting loopholes that Vodafone Group used to minimize the tax bill on the $130 billion sale of its stake in Verizon Wireless. Progress on these issues has been helped by a shared interest in shoring up government revenue, said Yves Tiberghien, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

The G-20 leaders will also take up a proposal to improve oversight of "shadow banks" - hedge funds and other non-banks that now account for a large proportion of lending activity.

G-20 nations - including China, France, Brazil, Canada, Australia, the U.S. and others - represent two-thirds of the world's population, 85% of its GDP and its leading armies.

Contributing: Associated Press

USA TODAY

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