Russia and China, long-time Syrian allies, have not agreed to any plan for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power, President Barack Obama said on Tuesday.
During talks between Obama and other world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, the U.S. president conceded he had failed to make a breakthrough with the leaders of Russia or China despite intensive talks.
“I wouldn’t suggest that at this point the United States and the rest of the international community are aligned with Russia and China in their positions, but I do think they recognize the grave dangers of all-out civil war,” he told reporters.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin had shifted his view of Assad during the talks and that discussions were now focused on a transition of power in Syria.
But Putin immediately seemed to contradict that notion, telling reporters at the end of the summit: “We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be brought to power, who should be removed from power.”
Russia has been the staunchest backer of Assad and his military crackdown against militants and protesters in Syria, including supplying arms to the Syrian government.
The Pentagon said Russia’s military was preparing to send three ships to Syria but noted that Moscow’s stated intention was to send supplies and personnel to its naval facility in the Mediterranean port of Tartus.
Speaking at the summit, Obama said Assad has lost all legitimacy and that it was impossible to conceive of any solution to the violence in Syria that leaves him in power.
International efforts to halt the violence are deadlocked because Russia and China, which wield vetoes in the U.N. Security Council, have blocked tougher action against Assad. They say the solution must come through political dialogue, an approach most of the Syrian opposition rejects.
The comments from the heads of state came as Assad’s forces bombarded the city of Homs and clashed with rebels on Tuesday.
The United States and European nations on the Security Council are now again pressing Russia to agree U.N. measures to back the six-point peace plan of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
At the G20 summit, Obama said it is important for the world community to work with the U.N. and international mediator Annan “on what a political transition would look like. ... But I don’t think it would be fair to say that the Russians and the Chinese are signed on at this point.”
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is “gravely concerned” about the rising death toll in Syria, a top official said earlier on Tuesday.
Ban wants the Security Council to unite to apply “sustained pressure” on Assad to apply the Annan peace plan, assistant secretary general Oscar Fernandez Taranco told the 15-nation body.
“The secretary general remains gravely concerned about the intensification of violence and rising death toll as well as continued human rights abuses and unmet humanitarian needs,” Taranco said.
“The situation in Homs is particularly alarming,” he added.
Syrian rights monitors say about 1,000 families are trapped in the city as it comes under intense bombardment from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The government claims that “terrorist groups” in Homs are using civilians as human shields.
Also on Tuesday, the chief U.N. monitor for Syria told the Security Council that his military observers were repeatedly targeted by hostile crowds and gunfire at close range last week before his decision to suspend operations, U.N. diplomats said.
U.N. monitors are “morally obliged” to stay in Syria even though escalating violence has halted operations, Major General Robert Mood told the U.N. Security Council.