The White House tried to soften the blow of Clinton's accusation days before the G-20 meeting that Russia was equipping the Syrian government with attack helicopters that could bused against civilians. She later acknowledged they were only helicopters already owned by Syria that had been sent back to Russia for repairs, but Russia was already annoyed.
Russia insists that any arms it supplies to Syria are not being used to quell anti-government dissent that began more than a year ago, and has rebuffed efforts to impose an international arms embargo. Russia and Syria have a longstanding military relationship and Syria hosts Russia's only naval base on the Mediterranean Sea.
The United States has refused to arm anti-Assad rebels in part to avoid a proxy fight in which Iran and Russia and others arm one side and the U.S. and Sunni Arab states arm the other. Opposition groups estimate 13,000 people have died in violence that the U.S. fears is sliding into civil war.
Carney brushed aside questions about whether the U.S. might yank support for Russia's membership in World Trade Organization if Russia refuses to help on Syria. He underscored that the U.S. supports that core Russian goal, which will be a centerpiece of the talks.
The Obama-Putin meeting also comes the same day as Moscow hosts an international negotiating session with Iran. Russia has gone along with U.N. Security Council efforts to tighten some penalties against Iran because of questions about its nuclear weapons ambitions, but has blocked the harshest punishments. Still, the United States needs Russia's participation to lend legitimacy to the argument that Iran faces broad international condemnation. Iran usually paints the dispute over its nuclear program as a confrontation with the U.S. and its ally Israel.
The Pew Research Center's newly released global public opinion survey gives Putin job approval ratings Obama can only dream of. About 72 percent of Russians have a favorable opinion of Putin, and a majority put more faith in a strong leader than in a democratic form of government. Nearly three-quarters of those polled said Russia deserves greater respect from other countries.
Despite that footing, tens of thousands of protesters thronged Moscow streets this past week in the first mass protest against Putin since he returned to the presidency in May. His tactics in cracking down on political opponents will make it difficult for Obama to play down longstanding U.S. complaints about human rights abuses that infuriate Russian leaders. The Kremlin ordered the detention and interrogation of at least one activist and searches of others' homes last week.
Putin's own return to the presidency was far more certain than Obama's re-election chances. Despite their differences, Putin probably would prefer a second Obama term to a Mitt Romney presidency, Katz said, not least because the Republican challenger has called Russia the chief strategic enemy of the United States.
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