After a vigorous lobbying effort, Obama walked away from the G20 summit with a statement signed by 11 countries that asserts Bashar al-Assad was behind the alleged chemical attacks and urges "a strong international response to a grave violation of the world's rules" but notably falls short of supporting direct strikes.
The statement—rejected by countries including Russia, China, South Africa, Indonesia, Argentina and Brazil—includes the wording, "[T]he UN security council remains paralysed, as it has been for two and a half years. The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to suffering in Syria. We support efforts by the US and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons."
While the development does not equate to majority support among G20 member countries for military intervention, it does appear to signify a diplomatic gain on the part of Obama after days of isolation at the meeting. Meanwhile, Putin released a vague threat of Russian military action in the event of US strikes.
President Barack Obama appeared increasingly isolated on the global stage on Friday as he faced stiff opposition, and only flimsy support, in his push for direct military strikes on Syria at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Despite the continued disapproval of his case for war, Obama seemed determined to push the issue, rebuffing a barrage of calls to avoid military intervention from global players and even mocking UN legal channels as "the usual hocus pocus."
A Thursday discussion over Syria left Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin still far apart, with Putin continuing his strong opposition to U.S. or NATO intervention.
China, the European Union, and the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) warned that military attacks without UN Security Council approval would be irresponsible and dangerous.
Of G20 member countries—world powers who account for 90 percent of the global economy—only France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Canada have come out in support of US military strikes. British Prime Minister David Cameron has joined Obama in calling for a military intervention, but his hands became tied after the British Parliament voted against authorizing military action.
Obama has been rigorously lobbying allies at the meeting but appears to be meeting dead ends. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly stated that her country will not get involved, and Obama's Thursday meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has so far failed to bring Japan on board.
In a Friday press conference at the summit, Obama played down global opposition to proposed strikes.
Yet, at a competing press conference Friday, Putin claimed there not only "division" over the matter, but overwhelming opposition to a U.S.-led campaign. "Actually opinions didn't divide 50/50," Putin argued.
"Who was for military intervention?" the Russian president continued. "The US, France, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Turkey. Mr Cameron also was advocating military intervention but the British parliament was against it. The Chancellor of Germany is also cautious. Germany is not going to participate in any military action. Who was condemning and opposing that way of action? Russia, India, China, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Italy. And also the secretary general of the UN voiced his protest against military intervention. And let's not forget the address by the pope, who directly voiced the inadmissibility of military intervention."
However, Obama appeared unfazed by the opposition and poised to take the U.S. to war without broad international backing. In response to a question about following international protocols and taking the issue to the UN Seceurity Council for approval, Obama responded with a meandering statement against following that path:
Frankly, if we weren't talking about the need for an international response right now, this wouldn't be what everybody would be asking about. You know, there would be some resolutions that were being proffered in the United Nations and the usual hocus pocus, but the world and the country would have moved on. So trying to impart a sense of urgency about this, why we can't have an environment in which over time, people start thinking this we can get away with chemical weapons use--it's a hard sell, but it's something I believe in.
Meanwhile, UN Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned Friday that a unilateral rush into war with Syria would be a grave mistake. "International law says that no country is allowed to take the law into their hands—they have to go through the Security Council," he told reporters at the G20 summit.
As Putin alluded to, even Pope Francis added his voice to the chorus of global opposition to U.S.-led strikes on Syria, writing a personal letter in which he made a "heartfelt appeal" to world leaders to prevent the "futile pursuit of a military solution."