Turkey, Russia and Iran leaders to discuss Syria in Istanbul: Turkish source

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani together with his counterparts, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan, attend a joint news conference following their meeting in Sochi, Russia November 22, 2017.

ANKARA (Reuters) – The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed on Wednesday to meet in Istanbul to discuss the conflict in Syria, a Turkish presidential source said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan discussed the meeting in two phone calls on Wednesday with the Russian and Iranian presidents, the source said. The date of the summit would be set in coming weeks.

The three countries have worked together in recent months to try to reduce violence in Syria, even though they have backed rival sides in the nearly seven-year civil war and remain deeply involved in the conflict.

Iran-backed militias and Russian air power have supported a Syrian army offensive in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib since November, and Turkish forces last month launched an offensive in northern Syria’s Kurdish region of Afrin.

On Monday, Iran urged Turkey to halt the Afrin operation, saying it breached Syrian sovereignty and would increase tension. It was not immediately clear whether Erdogan and Rouhani discussed Afrin in their telephone call on Thursday.

Erdogan and Putin also agreed to speed up the establishment of military observation posts in Syria’s Idlib region under an accord reached by Ankara, Tehran and Moscow last year to reduce fighting between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels.

After the phone call, the Kremlin said in a statement that Putin and Erdogan agreed to strengthen coordination between the two countries’ military and security services in Syria in the fight against terrorism.

(Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans)

European Union leaders to host Turkey’s Erdogan, the estranged uncle they can’t shut out

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters during a meeting of the ruling AK Party in Corum, Turkey January 28, 2018.

By Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders are so discomfited by their relationship with Turkey these days that they relegated their summit next month to Varna, a Bulgarian Black Sea port, rather than hold it in Brussels.

But despite their wariness over President Tayyip Erdogan, who has cracked down hard on critics at home and lashed out at the West, they need him too much to turn their backs.

Turkish and European Union officials both expect an uneasy atmosphere at the summit on March 26. But the European hosts will have little choice but to hear Erdogan out as he asks for more money for Syrian refugees, a deeper customs union and progress in talks on letting Turks visit Europe without visas.

On the one hand, European leaders have robustly criticized Turkey for what they see as rapid backsliding on democracy and human rights, especially during a crackdown in the wake of a failed coup in 2016. Some of Erdogan’s hostile rhetoric toward Europe last year, including comparing the Dutch and German governments to Nazis, has been, for EU leaders, beyond the pale.

But on the other hand, European countries still rely on Turkey as a NATO ally on Europe’s southern flank. And an EU deal with Erdogan that halted the mass influx of Syrian refugees into the bloc means the Turkish leader is like an estranged relative that you can’t disinvite from a family dinner, no matter how badly you think he has behaved.

“You intensely dislike the person you have in front of you, but you just cannot do without him,” said Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey and now an analyst at Carnegie Europe think-tank.

Turkey says it is in Europe’s interest to be warm.

“If the EU gives positive signals to Turkey, the more Turkey will do in terms of reforms,” said Ankara’s envoy to the European Union, Faruk Kaymakci.

“But the more the EU isolates Turkey, the more inward-looking and nationalist it will turn,” he told reporters, calling for more “trust and confidence at the top level”.

A senior EU official said Turkey had sought to have the summit in Brussels, but the bloc decided to hold it in Varna instead to lower its profile. Bulgaria, Turkey’s neighbor, has better relations with Ankara than some other EU states and holds the rotating EU presidency for the first half of 2018.

“INCREDIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE”

The senior EU official described European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who will chair the Varna meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk, as furious over Erdogan’s crackdown. Some 50,000 people, including journalists, have been arrested and 150,000, including teachers, judges and soldiers, sacked or suspended from their jobs.

“For the EU, this is incredibly uncomfortable. They are backsliding on everything,” the senior EU official said.

Juncker has warned Turkey that it cannot count on any significant rapprochement with the EU as long as it keeps journalists in jail.

The Netherlands formally withdrew its ambassador to Ankara this month, after 2017 was marked by Erdogan calling German and Dutch officials “fascists” for stopping rallies in support of a referendum in Turkey to grant Erdogan broader powers. Germany is particularly angry that some German citizens are among those arrested in Erdogan’s purge.

Turkey is still a candidate to join the EU, having applied decades ago. But after years of on-and-off progress, including under Erdogan who first took power in 2003, the EU froze the accession talks over the crackdown since the botched coup.

Brussels is deeply skeptical that Ankara would reverse the crackdown to deliver the democratic and judicial reforms that would be required to restart those negotiations.

But Kaymakci, the Turkish envoy, said he still hoped the bloc would commit another 3 billion euros ($3.7 bln) for Syrian refugees in Turkey at the Varna summit, and move forward with talks on letting Turks enter Europe without visas.

EU officials say Turkey does not meet criteria for visa-free travel. When it comes to money for refugees, the bloc is looking at how to accommodate Turkey, acknowledging its role in hosting them and committing to look into funding.

Turkey’s request to deepen its customs union, which already allows tariff-free trade with the EU for most goods, is also likely to be politely rebuffed. Germany in particular has opposed further talks on customs for now.

The price Erdogan will have to pay for being invited to Varna, EU officials say, will be listening to his hosts speak frankly. Just weeks after the summit, the European Commission will release what is certain to be a damning report on the situation in Turkey.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Ankara; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Peter Graff)

Russia: North Korea summit undermines U.N., aggravates situation

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speak at a news conference during the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, January 16, 2018.

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia hit out on Wednesday at a U.S.-led effort to increase international pressure on North Korea, saying it was making the situation worse and undermining the United Nations.

Twenty nations hosted by the United States and Canada in Vancouver agreed on Tuesday to consider tougher sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States in spite of increasingly severe U.N. sanctions, raising fears of a new war on the Korean peninsula.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said top diplomats from Moscow and Beijing had not been invited to the meeting — which was made up of countries that backed South Korea during the 1950-53 Korea War — and that the events were damaging the authority of the United Nations.

“It is an absolutely unacceptable situation, when 17 countries take upon themselves the role of ‘helper’ to the UN Security Council and interpreter of its resolutions, thereby actually putting its authority into doubt,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Such events, conducted hastily and to the detriment of functioning multilateral formats, are not contributing to the normalisation of the situation around the Korean peninsula, but on the contrary, aggravating it.”

North and South Korea began talks last week for the first time in more than two years and agreed on Wednesday to field a combined women’s ice hockey team and march together under one flag at next month’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Russia’s Putin arrives in Iran to discuss Syria, nuclear deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran November 1, 2017.

By Denis Pinchuk

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin began a visit to Iran on Wednesday designed to underpin closer ties between two countries at loggerheads with the United States as President Donald Trump threatens to pull out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

Putin and his Iranian hosts are expected to discuss the nuclear deal and regional crises such as the Syrian conflict, in which Moscow and Tehran are the main backers of President Bashar al-Assad, while Washington, Turkey and most Arab states support opposition groups seeking to overthrow him.

“We are very pleased that, apart from our bilateral relations, our two countries play an important role in securing peace and stability in the region,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told Putin in his welcoming remarks.

Russian and Iranian help has proved crucial for Assad, allowing him to win a series of military victories since 2015 and to reestablish his control over most of Syria. Moscow is now trying to build on that success with a new diplomatic push, including a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi next month.

Moscow is also an important ally for Iran in its confrontation with the Trump administration, which on Oct. 13 refused to certify Tehran’s two-year-old nuclear deal with six major powers that include Russia and the United States.

Russia has criticized Trump’s move, which has opened a 60-day window for Congress to act to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran. These were lifted under the 2015 accord in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.

“This is a very important visit (by Putin) … It shows the determination of Tehran and Moscow to deepen their strategic alliance…. which will shape the future of the Middle East,” one Iranian official told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.

“Both Russia and Iran are under American pressure … Tehran has no other choice but to rely on Moscow to ease the U.S. pressure,” said the official.

Another Iranian official said Trump’s aggressive Iran policy had united Iran’s faction-ridden leadership in alignment with Russia.

During his visit, Putin will also discuss boosting bilateral economic ties, and will take part in a three-way summit between Russia, Iran and neighboring Azerbaijan, state TV said.

 

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

 

Details of first Putin-Trump meeting not yet settled: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on January 17, 2017 and U.S. President Donald Trump seen at a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 20, 2017, as seen in this combination photo.

By Denis Dyomkin and Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and the United States are still discussing the timing of the first face-to-face encounter between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, expected to take place at a G20 summit in Germany later this week, a Kremlin aide said on Monday.

Since Trump was elected U.S. president, Russian has been keenly anticipating his first meeting with Putin, hoping it would trigger a reset in U.S.-Russia relations that plunged to post-Cold War lows under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

But with Trump embroiled in a row at home over his associates’ links to Moscow, the encounter with Putin has become a minefield. Too warm a meeting would allow Trump’s domestic opponents to accuse him of being a Kremlin stooge.

Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters the Trump-Putin meeting would happen on the sidelines of the G20 summit, in Hamburg, but it was not yet finalised how it would fit into the summit’s schedule.

“We will be looking for certain breaks, windows to hold this, the most important, meeting,” Ushakov said.

“We have a lot of issues, which should be discussed at the highest level … That’s why this meeting, this first personal contact, is so important.”

Asked about the agenda for the meeting, Ushakov said: “I’ve heard the Americans want to raise the issues of terrorism and Syria. It seems to me that would be pretty reasonable.”

Ushakov said that ties between Russia and the United States were at “zero level.”

The Kremlin aide urged the United States “to save us from the need to retaliate” against Washington for expelling Russian diplomats and seizing two Russian diplomatic compounds on U.S. soil, one in Maryland and the other on Long Island.

Barack Obama ordered the expulsion of the 35 Russians in late December last year, seized the compounds, and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over what he said was their involvement in hacking political groups in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

Russian has denied interfering in the U.S. election. Putin said at the time he would not retaliate immediately, in the expectation that relations would improve under Trump.

With no thaw materializing yet, Russian officials have said this month that they may now have to take “symmetrical” steps in retaliation.

 

(Editing by Vladimir Soldatkin/Christian Lowe/Andrew Osborn)

 

Trump talks North Korea threat in calls with China, Japan leaders

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping chat as they walk along the front patio of the Mar-a-Lago estate after a bilateral meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 7,

By Jeff Mason

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (Reuters) – The threat posed by North Korea was a key topic in phone calls between U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of China and Japan, along with trade issues, the White House said on Sunday.

Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of expected meetings with the leaders of Asia’s two biggest economies at a Group of 20 nations summit in Germany later this week.

“Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” the White House said of Trump’s call with Xi from his resort property in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where he is spending a long weekend.

“President Trump reiterated his determination to seek more balanced trade relations with America’s trading partners,” it added.

Trump has become increasingly frustrated with China’s inability to rein in North Korea, and the reference to trade was an indication the one-time New York businessman may be ready to return to his tougher-talking ways on business with Beijing after holding back in hopes it would put more pressure on Pyongyang.

Trump and Xi discussed the “peace and stability of the Korean peninsula”, China’s Foreign Ministry said, without elaborating.

Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang later told a daily briefing that the United States was “very clear” about China’s position on North Korea. Geng did not elaborate on what Xi told Trump about North Korea.

“Negative factors” have affected Sino-U.S. relations, and China has already expressed its position to the United States, Xi told Trump, according to a read-out of a telephone call between the leaders carried by the ministry.

 

ONE CHINA POLICY

The ministry said Trump told Xi the U.S. government would continue to follow a “one China” policy, under which Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it, and that this position had not changed.

China pays great attention to that reiteration and hopes the United States can “appropriately handle” the Taiwan issue, Xi told Trump, according to the ministry.

On Thursday, the United States targeted a Chinese bank and sanctioned Chinese individuals and a firm for dealing with North Korea and approved a $1.42 billion arms deal with Taiwan – decisions that angered Beijing.

And on Sunday a U.S. warship sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea claimed by China, drawing a rebuke from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Trump’s separate conversations with the two Asian leaders followed White House talks with South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, last week in which the U.S. leader called on Asian powers to implement sanctions and demand North Korea “choose a better path and do it quickly.”

 

TRILATERAL SUMMIT

Trump and Abe, in their call, reiterated their commitment to increase pressure on North Korea.

“They reaffirmed that the United States-Japan Alliance stands ready to defend and respond to any threat or action taken by North Korea,” the White House said in a statement.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference the two countries and South Korea will have a trilateral summit at the G20 meeting, but he didn’t want to speculate on what might be said there.

“It’s important for these three nations to show their strong unity and cooperation both within and without,” Suga said. “Things such as strengthening pressure on North Korea or urging China to fulfill even more of a role. Things like this have been agreed on before as well.”

Trump, who held talks with Abe earlier this year at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, has forged a united front with the Japanese leader on the need to exert pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear and missile development.

During and after a Florida summit with Xi in April at Mar-a-Lago, Trump praised his Chinese counterpart for agreeing to work on the North Korea issue and has held back on attacking Chinese trade practices he railed against during the presidential campaign.

But Trump has recently suggested he was running out of patience with China’s modest steps to pressure North Korea, which is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States, and has been considering moving ahead on trade actions.

Trump has been weighing new quotas or tariffs on steel imports for national security reasons and plans to discuss his concerns at the G20. Washington sees excess global production capacity, particularly in China, administration officials say.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in New Jersey, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Takaya Yamaguchi in Tokyo; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

 

Uganda seeks $2 billion for South Sudan refugees at planned summit

South Sudanese refugee families displaced by fighting gather at Imvepi settlement in Arua district, northern Uganda, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/James Akena

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda hopes to raise $2 billion in donations at a U.N. refugee summit next month to help fund relief operations for refugees flowing in from neighboring South Sudan, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said on Tuesday.

The east African country hosts a total of 1.2 million refugees, of which almost 800,000 are South Sudanese who fled the world’s youngest country since the outbreak of civil war.

Rugunda said Uganda faced difficulties in coping with the influx, which ballooned recently since the latest wave of violence erupted in July.

“The … numbers are placing a huge strain on our already stressed ability to cater for food,” he told a news conference.

“We are hoping that … we will be able to raise $2 billion from the summit,” he said in Kampala, where the U.N.-hosted gathering is set to be held.

The conflict in the oil-producing country began when President Salva Kiir fired his deputy Riek Machar in 2013, two years after the country won independence from neighboring Sudan.

The fighting that followed split the country along ethnic lines, spurred hyperinflation and plunged parts of the nation into famine, creating Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

The latest bout of warfare erupted in July, less than a year after both sides signing a peace pact in 2015.

Rugunda said the money Kampala sought to raise from the summit would fund relief operations for the next twelve months from June.

Uganda has won plaudits for its liberal refugee policy that maintains open borders and allocates land plots to individual refugee families.

Kampala also grants refugees free movement and employment in the country, as well as some public services such as free education and healthcare.

Rugunda said Uganda expected an additional 400,000 refugees to arrive in the country this year “because of the recurring cycles of insecurity and instability in the region.”

(This version of the story corrects prime minister’s name to Rugunda in first, 3rd paras.)

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Aaron Maasho and Tom Heneghan)

China welcomes ASEAN summit declaration on South China Sea

An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in disputed South China Sea April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Francis Malasig/Pool

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Tuesday welcomed a softer stand taken by Southeast Asian countries on the disputed South China Sea at a weekend summit, saying it showed efforts to ease tension were working.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) dropped references to “land reclamation and militarization” from its chairman’s statement this year at the end of its summit in the Philippine capital, Manila.

The reference had been included last year and was even in an earlier, unpublished version of the statement, seen by Reuters on Saturday.

Two ASEAN diplomats said that this year, China had pressed ASEAN chair the Philippines to keep China’s contentious activities in the strategic waterway off ASEAN’s official agenda.

China is not a member of the 10-member bloc and did not attend the summit but it is extremely sensitive about the content of its statements.

It has often been accused of trying to influence the drafting of statements to muzzle what it sees as challenges to its sweeping sovereignty claim.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not directly answer a question on whether China had exerted pressure over the statement.

“Since last year, with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries including the Philippines, temperatures in the South China Sea situation have gone down and things have eased up. I think this accords with the interests of countries in the region,” Geng told a daily news briefing.

“The relevant situation at this ASEAN summit again fully shows the positive changes in the South China Sea situation and that the joint wish of countries in this region is to seek stability, promote cooperation and seek development, and this should be respected and supported by all sides.”

China has reacted angrily to individual members of the regional bloc expressing their concern about its rapid reclamation of reefs in the Spratlys islands and its installation of missile systems on them.

Philippine foreign ministry official Zaldy Patron, who is in-charge of ASEAN affairs, said nobody at the summit had pushed strongly on the South China Sea issue, or mentioned anything about land reclamation and militarization.

“But on the other hand, the leaders highlighted improving relations between ASEAN and China,” Patron said in Manila.

The softer statement comes as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte seeks to bury the hatchet with China after years of wrangling over its maritime assertiveness and over-lapping claims.

After lobbying from Duterte, China agreed to let Philippine boats back to the rich fishing ground of the disputed Scarborough Shoal following a four-year blockade.

China claims most of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have competing claims that overlap with China’s.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in Manila; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Arab leaders seek common ground at summit on Palestinian state

Jordan's King Abdullah II stands next to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during a reception ceremony at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Ali Sawafta

Dead Sea, JORDAN (Reuters) – Divided Arab leaders arriving in Jordan for a summit on Wednesday are seeking common ground to reaffirm their commitment to a Palestinian state, a longstanding goal that U.S. President Donald Trump last month put into doubt.

The Dead Sea meeting is expected to have a bigger turnout than recent Arab summits, Jordanian officials say, and security forces cast a high profile in the capital Amman with armored vehicles standing at traffic junctions as leaders flew in.

While they are highly unlikely to bridge rifts over the regional role of Iran or intractable wars in Syria and Yemen, Arab leaders remain united in supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We are concerned that there should be an Arab consensus on the Palestinian file so that this reflects clearly in the discussions of Arab states and their leaders with the new American administration,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told Reuters.

Before taking office in January, Trump promised to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – something adamantly opposed by Arabs as tantamount, in their view, to recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem – which Israel captured in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally – as the capital of a future state encompassing the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been frozen since 2014.

Trump also, during a White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, he indicated he was open to a one-state solution to the conflict.

That would be deeply problematic for both sides, as it would mean either two systems for two peoples – something Palestinians would see as apartheid and endless occupation – or equal rights for all, which would compromise Israel’s Jewish character.

The Arab monarchs and presidents attending Wednesday’s summit will meet at the Dead Sea, only a few km (miles) from the West Bank and with Israeli settlements visible to the naked eye.

The United States is sending a representative to the summit, Maliki said. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah are both scheduled to meet Trump soon.

A draft resolution on Jerusalem and seen by Reuters will require all Arab states to respond to any move by any country to move its embassy there, without specifying the United States.

“The Palestinian issue is the central issue. It is the root cause of conflict in the region and its resolution is the key to peace and stability. We hope we will be able to again relaunch efforts that would get serious negotiations restarted again,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

SPLITS OVER IRAN, WARS IN YEMEN, SYRIA

The biggest disagreement among Arab countries is over the regional role of Iran, an ally of Syria and Iraq and the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement that dominates Lebanon, but regarded by Saudi Arabia and some other Sunni Muslim states as a bitter adversary.

Shi’ite Iran and Saudi Arabia support opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, which have caused humanitarian catastrophes, and in political and factional disputes simmering for years in Bahrain and Lebanon.

The Middle East’s political feuds have stoked sectarian tensions between Islam’s main Sunni and Shi’ite branches in recent years, contributing to increased militant violence.

“We meet in a difficult Arab era dominated by crisis and conflicts that deprive our region of the security and stability they need to attain our people’s rights,” Safadi said in a meeting with fellow foreign ministers before the summit.

A Jordanian official told Reuters that the final statement from the summit was expected to include a condemnation of Iran for what it called meddling in internal Arab affairs, and to call on it to refrain from using force or threats. Iran denies any such interference.

A summit meeting of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation included a similar line in its final statement last year.

Friction also smolders between Saudi Arabia, the richest Arab state, and Egypt, the most populous one – close allies for decades before the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings – over approaches to Syria’s war and the demarcation of their marine border.

The kingdom’s oil giant Saudi Aramco resumed petroleum shipments to Egypt earlier this month, suggesting relations may be improving, and Egypt’s Sisi is hoping for a bilateral meeting with King Salman in Amman this week.

“There could actually be a product of the Arab summit – a unified attitude towards Washington’s policy in Palestine. They might disagree on all other issues, but I think this is the unifying one,” said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security expert with close ties to the Saudi Interior Ministry.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Cairo, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Stephen Kalin and Noah Browning in Dubai; Writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Obama, Putin talk about Syria and Ukraine in quick summit meet

Obama and Putin

LIMA (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke for around four minutes on Sunday at the APEC summit about Syria and Ukraine, in what is likely to be their last in-person meeting before Obama leaves office.

The two men met at the start of the summit meeting in Lima, Peru’s capital. They exchanged pleasantries and remained standing as they spoke.

Obama later said at a news conference he told Putin the U.S. is deeply concerned about bloodshed and chaos in Syria “sown by constant bombing attacks” by the Syrian and Russian militaries, and that a ceasefire and political transition were needed.

“As usual I was candid and courteous but very clear about the strong differences we have on policy,” Obama said.

Putin said at a separate news conference he thanked Obama during Sunday’s meeting in Lima “for the years of joint work”.

“I told him that we would be happy to see him (Obama) in Russia anytime if he wants, can and has desire”, Putin said.

Obama and Putin have had a challenging relationship. The U.S. president said last week he had warned Putin about consequences for cyber attacks attributed to Moscow that were seen as trying to influence the U.S. election.

Obama said he also urged President Putin to help implement the Minsk peace agreement by working with France, Germany, Ukraine and the United States to halt the conflict in Donbass region of Ukraine.

During his race for the White House, Republican President-elect Donald Trump praised Putin. Putin said on Sunday that Trump had confirmed to him that he was willing to mend ties.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk, Caroline Stauffer and Mitra Taj; Editing by Alan Crosby and Simon Cameron-Moore)