ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — President Barack Obama is heading into the lion's den of Russia, confronting Syria's key patron as well as foreign leaders skeptical of his call for an international military strike against Bashar Assad's government.
Obama on Thursday began a two-day visit to St. Petersburg for the Group of 20 economic summit, putting him in the same country as Edward Snowden for the first time since the American fugitive fled to Moscow earlier this year. Both Syria and Snowden have been sore points in an already strained U.S.-Russian relationship, fueling the notion that Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin just can't get along.
Stepping out of his armored limousine at the arrival ceremony, Obama greeted with a few brief words and a grip of the hands. Turning to the waiting cameras, Obama cracked a wide grin before entering the ornate Constantine Palace. Praising the beauty of the palace, Obama thanked his host, who smiled at the American leader.
The starched, businessman-like exchange was the most highly anticipated of the summit, but lasted less than 20 seconds.
The White House went out of its way to say that while the two would cross paths at various meetings, Obama would not be meeting one-on-one with the Russian leader during his stay in St. Petersburg.
Still struggling to persuade dubious lawmakers at home on Syria, Obama in Russia will seek to win over world leaders reluctant to get drawn in to yet another U.S.-led sortie in a Mideast nation. Although Syria wasn't formally on the agenda for the economy-focused summit, U.S. officials were resigned to the fact that the bloody civil war there surely would overwhelm any talks about global economics.
Shortly after his arrival in St. Petersburg, Obama met on the summit's sidelines with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He planned similar meetings Friday with the leaders of France and China.