WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will huddle with the leaders of Germany, Britain, Italy and France next week in hopes of making “incremental progress” in the fight against the Islamic State group, the White House said Thursday.
The leaders will gather in Turkey on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit, regrouping after diplomats emerge from a second round of talks on Syria’s crisis over the weekend in Vienna. But Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, suggested a major breakthrough was unlikely.
“I don’t think anybody expects a single outcome that all of a sudden readily resolves all of these difficult issues,” Rice said.
Russia, which is circulating a new proposal to end the Syrian conflict, won’t participate in the meeting in Turkey, and Obama had no plans to hold a formal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin while both are in Antalya, Turkey, for the G20 summit. Still, Rice said Obama and Putin would have “ample opportunity for discussion” during informal run-ins at the summit.
Obama’s longtime antagonist, Putin is coming to the annual gathering of the world’s 20 largest economies in a stronger position than last year, when he left the summit early as world leaders took turns railing against his actions in Ukraine.
Efforts by the U.S. and European countries to punish Russia with economic sanctions have done little to change Putin’s approach in Ukraine. And in recent weeks, Putin has re-emerged as a key player in the Syria conflict, opening an air campaign against groups fighting Syria’s government and now drafting a plan for a lengthy political transition.
The White House said Ukraine was also on the agenda when Obama meets with Western European leaders.
The president departs on Saturday for a trip to Turkey, Malaysia and the Philippines, aimed in large part at bolster his campaign to realign U.S. engagement overseas toward Asia. Aside from attending a trio of economic summits, Obama’s key goal for the trip is to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the U.S. recently struck with nations in the Asia-Pacific and in North America. He also hopes to rally support for a global climate deal that world leaders hope to finalize in Paris within weeks.
With those priorities in mind, Obama will also squeeze in a series of smaller sit-downs with leaders of other countries also attending the summits. In Antalya, Obama will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party pulled off a surprise victory in recent elections but who faces criticism for a crackdown on media freedoms. In Asia, Obama will hold his first meetings with the newly installed prime ministers of Canada and Australia, and hold separate meetings with the leaders of Malaysia, Japan, Laos, Singapore and the Philippines.
Although Obama won’t meet individually with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two leaders will cross paths in Manila, amid ongoing tensions over China’s territorial claims in disputed waters off its coast. Ahead of the trip, the White House called for a global “code of conduct” to govern maritime disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere, with Rice pledging it would be “a central issue of discussion.”
Another pressing theme for Obama’s 9-day trip is the refugee crisis in Europe, which has been inundated by hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent months — many of them from Syria. European leaders have struggled to develop a coordinated response, with some countries building fences, reintroducing border controls and fighting among themselves about the relative burden each host nation should bear.
Although the migrant crisis has hit Europe the hardest, Asian countries have also been affected, a fact Obama intends to highlight during his visit. The White House said that while in Malaysia, Obama would visit a refugee center and call for greater global cooperation to help those fleeing violence.