STRELNA, LENINGRAD REGION, September 5 (Itar-Tass) - President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama shook hands during the welcoming ceremony before the start of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg on Thursday, September 5.
This is their first handshake after the G8 summit in Great Britain in the middle of June. Obama’s black limousine had pulled over in front of the Konstantin Palace in Strelna, the main venue of the G20 summit. Observers noted that Putin’s handshake with the US President lasted somewhat longer than with the other leaders.
Relations between Russia and the United States became strained after Moscow had granted temporary asylum to US National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. Obama cancelled his meeting with Putin in Moscow in September referring to the lack of progress in bilateral relations.
“We have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a US-Russia Summit in early September,” the White House said in a statement.
The US administration regretted Russia’s “disappointing decision” to grant US National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum and said it was also “a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship.”
“Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, we have informed the Russian Government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” the statement said.
At the same time, the White House said Obama would travel to St. Petersburg to attend a G20 summit and stressed that the two countries would continue working on the shared agenda.
White House Spokesperson Jay Carney said the G20 summit was an international forum and the United States would discuss international issues there. He stressed that the two countries disagreed not only over former Snowden but also over other issues, including Syria.
The United States insists it has evidence proving that chemical weapons in Damascus’ suburbs were used by the Syrian government. Russia says its information indicates otherwise.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the American information regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria provided to Russia contained nothing specific.
“We were shown some papers that contained nothing specific: neither geographical maps, nor names, with lots of discrepancies. There are very many doubts. What we were shown before is not convincing at all. There are no facts: ‘we know it for sure but it’s all secret and we cannot show it to you’,” Lavrov said on September 2.
The minister said it was inappropriate to keep such information secret. “If there is some other super secret information, it probably has to be made public. It’s a matter of war and peace. Playing secrecy is probably inappropriate there,” Lavrov said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington had provided Russia with the proof of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its own people, but Moscow had not believed it.
“We sent people over to Russia who provided evidence we had … and they chose - I literally mean chose - not to believe it or to at least acknowledge publicly. I think this evidence is going to be overwhelming,” Kerry said in an interview with ABC on September 1.
“We know that the regime has used those weapons multiple times this year and has used them on a smaller scale, but still it has used them against its own people, including not very far from where last Wednesday’s attack happened. We know that the regime was specifically determined to rid the Damascus suburbs of the opposition, and it was frustrated that it hadn’t succeeded in doing so,” the secretary of state said in a statement on Syria made on August 30.
“We know that for three days before the attack the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area making preparations. And we know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons. We know that these were specific instructions. We know where the rockets were launched from and at what time. We know where they landed and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods,” he said.
The US government knows that “at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children. Even the first responders, the doctors, nurses, and medics who tried to save them, they became victims themselves,” he said.
Kerry described the attack as “the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons.”
As a result of the attack in Damascus’ suburb of Aleppo in March, 26 civilians and Syrian army personnel were killed and 86 persons injured.
Russia prepared a report on the incident and handed it over to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in hope that it would help determine all the circumstances of this incident.
“The Russian report is very specific. The ammunition used was not standard Syrian army ammunition and was homemade similarly to unguided projectiles made in the north of Syria by the so-called Bashair al-Nasr brigade,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
In addition, “hexogen was used to detonate the shell but it is not used in standard chemical ammunition. The samples of the ammunition and soil contain the nerve gas sarin, which was not commercially made, and diisopropylfluorophosphate, which was used by Western countries in chemical weapons during World War II,” the ministry said.
It stressed the need for the investigators to take into account all circumstances that had preceded the incident. It noted massive leaks of various materials to mass media aimed at shifting all responsibility for the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria to official Damascus even before the UN experts present their findings. “This is to prepare the ground for the use of force against Syria,” the ministry warned.