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At G-20 summit shadowed by Paris, Obama and Putin discuss Syria, Ukraine

On first day of talks by world leaders in Turkey, U.S. and Russian leaders hold impromptu meeting

President Barack Obama pledged Sunday to “redouble” U.S. efforts to wipe out the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), affirming solidarity with France at the beginning of a G-20 summit that has taken on new urgency following the Paris attacks.

Opening the two days of talks with world leaders in Turkey, Obama said “the skies have been darkened” by the incidents in the French capital on Friday. He offered no details about what the U.S. or its coalition partners might do to step up its fight against ISIL.

Later, Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin traded views on Syria's civil war and broached the tense topic of Ukraine during an impromptu sit-down, American and Russian officials said.

The White House said they discussed a new proposal to end the Syrian conflict and Obama's hope that Russia's airstrikes in Syria will focus on ISIL, not opposition groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. said that Obama and Putin agreed that Syria needs a political transition led by Syrians, preceded by negotiations mediated by the United Nations and a cease-fire. Obama and Putin have long been at odds about whether Assad can maintain a role following such a transition.

Obama also renewed his call for Russia to withdraw forces, weapons and support for pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, the White House said.

Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters that Putin and Obama had a “quite detailed conversation,” with Syria taking most of the time. He said they also talked about the attacks in Paris and other related issues.

“Strategic goals related to fighting the ISIL are very close, but tactical differences remain,” Ushakov said.

The specter of the ISIL threat and Syria’s civil war hung over the Turkish seaside city of Antalya as Obama and other leaders descended for the Group of 20 summit of leading rich and developing nations. Although the overlapping crises were already on the lineup for the two days of talks, they were thrust to the forefront by the elaborately coordinated attacks that killed more than 130 people in the French capital just two days earlier, in the most destructive attack in the West blamed on the group.

French President François Hollande withdrew from the summit to stay in Paris and deal with the aftermath of the attacks that have shaken his nation.

World leaders gathering for the G-20 are looking to answer a critical question: Beyond tough talk, how will the world respond to bloodshed now extending far beyond ISIL’s foothold in the Middle East? Leaders in Europe, the U.S. and beyond have pledged to step up the response, with Hollande vowing a “merciless” war on ISIL.

Yet despite plenty of tough talk, there were few signs of an emerging consensus about exactly what that means. Asked by reporters at the start of the meetings whether he would consider additional action against ISIL following the Paris attacks, Obama declined to tip his hand.

Obama's nine-day trip to Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia has already been largely overshadowed by Friday's attacks in Paris and the related issues of Syria's civil war and the resulting migrant crisis. Obama said the U.S. stands with Turkey and Europe in the effort to reduce the flow of migrants, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan predicted a “strong message” on fighting terrorism would result from the summit.

“We are confronted with a collective terrorism activity around the world. As you know, terrorism does not recognize any religion, any race, any nation, or any country,” Erdogan said.

ISIL also claimed responsibility for a bombing in Beirut that killed at least 43 people on Thursday. Turkish authorities blame ISIL for two bomb attacks in October that appeared to target a peace rally by leftist and Kurdish activists in Turkey's capital, Ankara, the nation's deadliest attacks in years.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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