G-20 leaders remain split on proposed US strike in Syria

Obama lobbies world leaders, and declines to answer how he'll respond if US senate votes 'no'

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande at the second working meeting of the G20 Leaders' Summit on Friday.
Sergei Guneev/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images

President Barack Obama told reporters Friday that a "majority of the room" at a Thursday dinner during the Group of 20 summit was comfortable with the United States' conclusion that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is responsible for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people in Damascus.

Despite that purported sentiment, world leaders gathered at the economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, have not been able to reach a consensus over the U.S. push to take military action against Syria for the alleged gas attack.

"When there is a breach this brazen and the international community is paralyzed and doesn't act," international norms like the ban on chemical weapons begin to unravel, Obama said.

According to a White House statement, 11 of the G-20 nations condemn the chemical weapons attack and are urging a strong interantional response. As the world waits for results from U.N. inspectors who are trying to sort out the circumstances of the attack, Russia and China have effectively blocked any resolution in the Security Council, complicating an international response.

Russian President Vladmir Putin, one of the Assad regime's strongest supporters, and the host of the summit, called the chemical weapons attack a "frameup" by opposition forces as a way to force Western military intervention in the region, and said any country that would attack without a United Nations Security Council resolution would be "outlaws" of international norms. 

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., warned that the alleged use of sarin gas by Assad is only an example of the embattled leader's deadly capabilities.

Assad "has barely put a dent in his enormous stockpile" of chemical weapons, Power said at the Center for American Progress.

Click for Al Jazeera's special coverage of the conflict in Syria

Amid a growing international resistance to intervention in Syria, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Friday that an "ill-considered" strike could have "tragic consequences" for the strife-torn country. Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that he and Obama met briefly on the sidelines of the summit but still do not agree on how to proceed on Syria's crisis.

Ban urged world powers to resist military action and instead respond to the humanitarian crisis that has exploded in Syria.  

"This is a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions in recent history," he said, adding that a missile strike could lead to an "increased threat of further sectarian violence."

The U.S. has said more than 1,400 people, including at least 400 children, were killed as the result of the deployment of chemical weapons on Aug. 21. Assad has vehemently denied responsibility for the assault.

The U.K. on Thursday presented fresh evidence that it claims shows that sarin gas was used in the attack. "We are confident and remain confident that Assad was responsible," British Prime Minister David Cameron said. Last week, however, the U.K. parliament voted against authorizing air strikes in Syria.

The issue of Syria has dominated proceedings in St. Petersburg, despite not being on the official agenda.

'Futile pursuit'

On the first day of the summit, the debate also appeared to center on restraint with respect to Syria, as China, the European Union, the BRICS -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- and Pope Francis warned of the dangers of military intervention without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

World leaders appear reluctant to get drawn in to another U.S.-led military intervention in a Middle Eastern nation.

The pope, who leads the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, wrote a letter urging the G-20 leaders to "lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution."

Meanwhile, the prospects for an agreement in St. Petersburg over Syria appear to have been dismissed by both sides.

After meeting with Putin on Friday, Cameron said that the Russian president remained "miles away" from believing that Assad used chemical weapons on his own people.

"The G-20 was never going to reach conclusions on Syria," the British prime minister said, adding: "The divisions are too great."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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