The United States said on Monday it was willing to cooperate with Russia, as well as Iran, to try to end the Syrian civil war, but the two big powers clashed over whether to work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Speaking at the annual United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama described Assad as a tyrant and as the chief culprit behind the four-year civil war in which at least 200,000 people have died and millions have been driven from their homes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in contrast, told the gathering of world leaders that there was no alternative to cooperating with Assad’s military in an effort to defeat the Islamic State militant group, which has seized parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Putin called for the creation of a broader international antiterrorist coalition with majority-Muslim countries as members, an appeal that may compete with the group that the United States has assembled to fight Islamic State.
“The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict,” Obama, who spoke before Putin, told the General Assembly. “But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.”
The disagreement over Assad raised questions about how Obama and Putin might find common ground during their meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly. The two leaders began meeting shortly after 5 p.m.
Putin walked in first with Obama close behind. Stopping in front of U.S. and Russian…