ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- President Barack Obama heads this week to a global summit in Russia, hoping to rally international support for his bid to launch a military strike against Syria.
Backing from global partners such as France and Germany could boost Obamas chances of securing support from Congress for military action when lawmakers arrive back in Washington next week from summer recess. But allies are treading cautiously, particularly after the British Parliament shot down Prime Minister David Camerons request for military action. And Obamas call to seek approval from a divided U.S. Congress further muddles the global calculus. He visits Sweden Wednesday, then arrives in Russia on Thursday.
His decision makes it so much more complicated to build that coalition, said Heather Conley, a former State Department official and director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. What does he say to (French President Francois) Hollande when Obama doesnt know if or when congressional authorization will be there? This is a complicated challenge of building diplomacy.
I dont expect every nation to agree with the decision we have made, Obama said Saturday. Privately, weve heard many expressions of support from our friends. But I will ask those who care about the writ of the international community to stand publicly behind our action.
European leaders have suggested waiting for the United Nations, and Conley said she expects more questions than answers from U.S. allies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a weekend interview with the German newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine, said the use of chemical weapons in Syria had broken a taboo that cannot remain without consequence. But Merkel ruled out German participation without a mandate from the U.N., NATO or the European Union.
One impossible sell for Obama: summit host Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government is Syrian Presidents Bashar Assads chief political and military ally.
Obama and Putin arent talking and the meeting of the Group of 20 representing the worlds wealthiest and emerging economies has as its focus the global economy. Still, the summit is likely to be overshadowed by Syria and the icy relationship between Putin and Obama, who last month canceled a pre-summit Moscow meeting with the Russian leader amid mounting tension.
There is no chance that Obama could persuade Putin, said Steven Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine and a Russia specialist at the Brookings Institution, noting that Putin dismissed the Obama administrations intelligence report on Syrian chemical weapon use as unimaginable nonsense.
Obama will run into Putin in St. Petersburg, but any interactions will be short, polite and cool, Pifer said.
Russia routinely quashes U.S. efforts at the U.N. to censure Assad, but Putins response to the U.S. in the end may be quite measured, because does he really want to make St. Petersburg about Syria? Pifer said. For Putin, the G20 is a big show in his hometown of St. Petersburg, designed to showcase Russian leadership on the world stage, Pifer said.
Obamas first stop will be Sweden a trip added after Obama scrapped the meeting with Putin. The staunch U.S. ally has shown a robust level of engagement it contributed troops to the war in Afghanistan and to operations in Mali and was on standby for operations in Libya, said Europe specialist Conley.