LIMA, Peru — President Barack Obama spent the last day of his final foreign trip attempting to make headway on one of the most painful aspects of his foreign policy portfolio: the civil war in Syria.
Just before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit opened its first formal session Sunday in the Peruvian capital, Obama spoke briefly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was standing by his seat at a huge circular table around which the participants were arrayed.
The four-minute discussion, which a White House official described as “brief and informal,” represented the first time the leaders had spoken in person since the Group of 20 convened in China in September. They delved into topics that included their disagreements over Ukraine and Russia’s support for the Syrian government in the civil war, where the rebel-held enclave of eastern Aleppo has been under daily aerial assault for nearly a week.
On Saturday, Syrian airstrikes there killed at least 20 people. Meanwhile, Russia announced that day that it was launching an offensive in the northern rebel-controlled Idlib province and in central Homs province.
“Beyond pleasantries, the president urged President Putin to uphold Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements, underscoring the U.S. and our partners’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty,” said the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic matters and was referring to a peace deal signed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to end the crisis in Ukraine.
“On Syria, the president noted the need for Secretary John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to continue pursuing initiatives, together with the broader international community, to diminish the violence and alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people,” the official said.
Dmitry Peskov, a Putin spokesman, said in a statement reported by the news agency Interfax, “The presidents expressed regret that it was not possible to make progress in Ukraine, however, it was pointed out that the remaining two months before Obama’s term ends should be used for the continuation of the search for a Syrian settlement. In this context, they agreed that Lavrov and Kerry will continue contacts.”
But “Putin no longer has a reason to negotiate with President Obama and instead will look for better terms on Syria from President Trump,” Ilan Goldenberg, of the Center for a New American Security, said in an email.