LOS CABOS, Mexico — US President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin met Monday, for the first time since the Russian leader's return to the presidency, for talks overshadowed by a row over Syria.
The closely watched meeting opened half-an-hour late on the sidelines of the G20 summit of developed and developing nations, as the US leader sought to preserve his "reset" of ties with Moscow despite building disagreements.
The meeting, at a plush hotel at the beach resort of Los Cabos, was due to be followed an appearance by both leaders before the press.
Obama sees his repair of relations with Moscow as a key legacy building foreign policy achievement, which yielded a new START nuclear arms reduction treaty and cooperation on Iranian nuclear sanctions and Afghanistan.
But the two sides have sparred openly since Putin returned to the presidency last month, and are far apart on how to handle the turmoil in Syria, with Moscow balking at US efforts to prod President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Facing a tough re-election fight, Obama has little room for maneuver politically, and there is speculation on whether Putin's own political position, in the shifting maelstrom of Russian politics, is secure.
There are also questions centering on whether Putin's abrasive and confrontational style, a contrast to that of his avuncular predecessor Dmitry Medvedev, will grate with Obama and adversely affect wider US-Russian relations.
Obama was famously caught on an open mic in Seoul in March asking Medvedev to tell Putin he would have more flexibility on a US missile defense scheme, which Moscow fiercely opposes, after November's election.
The US president also needs to protect his political flank. His Republican foe Mitt Romney has branded Russia a geopolitical threat and sees Obama's "reset" policy as a failure.
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