ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- As the G-20 wraps up its first day of meetings here, President Barack Obama is hoping that “interactions on the margins of the summit” could lead to a strong declaration of international support for military action in Syria.
At the end of these consultations the U.S. hopes that 10 of the 20 countries and organizations involved in economic talks here, will publicly say they’re on America’s side when it comes to a limited military attack on Syrian regime targets.
President Obama has said he’s ready to use military force against the Syrian regime for a chemical attack that took place on August 21st and, according to U.S. intelligence, killed more than 1,400. But the president not only wants Congress to authorize the action, he wants buy-in from a seemingly reluctant world. Senior White House aides say that even just strong vocal support from more international allies will go a long way toward getting more Democrats in Congress to vote for the president’s authorization to strike in Syria.
Of the 20 governmental bodies that make up the G-20, the White House believes it has eight leaders on its side. Some are obvious like Prime Minister David Cameron of the U.K., who was unable to push his parliament into using force against Syria, but has been outspoken about the need to hold Syria accountable. It is also expected that the leaders of Australia, Canada, France, South Korea, and Turkey would, at the very least, rhetorically support a strike on the Syrian regime.
After the president met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday, the White House expressed some hope that they had another country on board with their plan.
It appears the U.S. is trying to create an informal coalition of countries, since it’s unlikely that formal groups like the United Nations Security Council and NATO are going to get more directly involved in stopping the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
“The Security Council has been paralyzed,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said. But "there needs to be an international response to the use of chemical weapons. And we’ll continue to discuss with Japan and other countries the type of political support that they can express for that position going forward."
But it’s unclear if two NATO allies here at the G-20 can be persuaded by the president to create a united front of condemnation that leads to action. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already ruled out Germany’s participation in military action, but has said she wants to find a way forward on some type of united international response to the chemical-weapons attack.
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta has said Italy will not participate militarily without authorization from the U.N. Security Council. That won’t happen unless China and Russia change their votes. They hold veto power, as they -- like the United States -- are permanent members of the Security Council. And while the president is having a formal bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday, he does not have formal meetings scheduled with Merkel or Letta.
It could be that Obama’s comments on Wednesday about “international credibility” during a news conference in Stockholm were partially about making his case to an American audience, but also aimed at these international leaders with whom he is spending his time.
“The international community's credibility is on the line," Obama said, "and America and Congress' credibility is on the line, because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important. And when those videos first broke and you saw images of over 400 children subjected to gas, everybody expressed outrage. How can this happen in this modern world?"
He continued, “And so the question is how credible is the international community when it says this is an international norm that has to be observed?"
Along with the Chinese president, Obama will meet with French President François Hollande Friday, participate in more G-20 working sessions and hold what the White House is calling a “civil society round table” before heading back to Washington.