President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to bring both sides in the escalating Syrian civil war to the negotiating table in a meeting Monday at the global G8 summit in Northern Ireland, even though the Obama administration is now aiding Syrian rebels.
The reportedly “tense” and “uncomfortable” conversation resulted in an agreement between both leaders that the warring parties in Syria, composed of dictator Bashar al-Assad’s government and a loose coalition of rebels opposing al-Assad, must be brought together to negotiate.
Putin is an ally of al-Assad, the latest dictator liable to fall to rebel forces in the Arab Spring series of uprisings that sprang up during Obama’s first term. The White House recently acknowledged that al-Assad used nerve gas against Syrians in rebel territories, prompting the administration to consider establishing a no-fly zone in Syria to weaken al-Assad’s ability to wage war using planes and helicopters.
The White House announced last week that it will provide weapons and other aid to rebel forces. Seventy percent of Americans oppose the administration’s decision to aid the rebels, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
The al-Nusra Front, one of the leading Syrian rebel groups with roughly 10,000 soldiers fighting al-Assad in Syria, is also officially recognized by the White House as a terrorist group linked to the al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq.
Bashar al-Assad is the son and successor of the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad, a leader of the nationalist pan-Arab Ba’ath Party. Hafez ruled as president of the country from 1971 to 2000.