Syria is a much harder case, in part because Russia and China oppose U.N. action that could set a precedent for outside interference in internal ethnic or human rights matters, and partly because there is no international appetite for a military confrontation with Assad.
Syrian forces on Friday fired on protesters holding the largest opposition marches yet in Aleppo, a sign of rising anti-regime sentiment in the country's biggest city, which has largely remained supportive of President Bashar Assad throughout the 15-month uprising.
The head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria warned that neither his team nor armed action could solve the country's crisis, and called on all sides to discuss a solution. But the regime kept up its assaults on opposition areas and protests, while the head of Syria's largest exile opposition group dismissed the U.N.'s plan as unrealistic.
The White House abruptly moved the G-8 session to Camp David earlier this spring, after months of planning for a Chicago venue. A desire for seclusion and intimacy was one reason and a gesture to Russia was another.
Russia is opposed to a NATO plan for a missile defense shield in Europe that will be detailed at the NATO summit Sunday in Chicago, causing Russian President Vladimir Putin to let NATO know he did not want to be invited to the alliance meeting.
Separating the two sessions was supposed to make it easier for Putin to attend one and not the other. But Putin made his own abrupt change, telling Obama last week that he would skip the gathering and send Medvedev in his place.
The administration denied speculation that the sessions were moved for security reasons. Past G-8 meetings have seen large and sometimes violent protests by activists opposed to the increasing globalization of world economies. Street violence overshadowed the 2001 summit in Genoa, Italy. Critics have accused the G-8 of representing the interests of an elite group of industrialized nations to the detriment of the needs of the wider world. Since Genoa, the meetings have been held in increasingly isolated locations to shield leaders from protests, playing into criticism of the G-8's closed-door image.
Obama, an infrequent visitor to Camp David, is putting the presidential hideaway on full display for the G-8, the largest gathering of foreign leaders ever to assemble there. The leaders will stroll leafy paths to rustic meetings halls and bed down in the 11 residential cabins. Four African leaders will join them for lunch Saturday.
The G-8 is made up of the leaders of the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Russia. The meetings began in 1975 at a forum instigated by France, where leaders of the six largest economic powers agreed to annual meetings. Canada joined a year later, making it the G-7. Russia was brought into the organization in 1997, six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The European Union is represented but is not granted the power to act as host of the annual sessions or to serve as the rotating leader.
Obama holds the chairmanship this year.
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