WASHINGTON -- According to press reports from sycophants in the mainstream media, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin had a productive, 2-hour, private meeting of the minds during this week's G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. Don't believe it.
The Obama-Putin meeting did indeed last two hours. And when it was over, the two leaders actually stood on the same platform where they read from prepared statements -- and parted with the obligatory handshake after just 11 minutes -- without taking questions from reporters. It's the shortest U.S.-Russian bilateral press availability since Mikhail Gorbachev walked out on Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986.
Putin took three minutes to tell the assembled Fourth Estate that they had discussed "security," "economic relations" and "the Syrian affair." He also expressed thanks for the "support rendered to Russia with our accession to the World Trade Organization" and his hope this will somehow "promote the creation of jobs in both countries." He made no mention of Iranian aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons or Russian threats to veto United Nations sanctions against Iran and Syria.
As we have come to expect, our president took more than twice as long to say little more. Obama asserted that the two leaders had "a candid, thoughtful and thorough conversation on a whole range of bilateral and international issues," including, inter alia, "the new START Treaty" the WTO, "a range of strategic issues, including missile defense" and "the Northern Distribution Network that is vital to providing supplies and resources to our brave troops who are still in Afghanistan."
Notably, neither head of state mentioned how the collapse of U.S.-Pakistani discussions on reopening Afghanistan-Pakistan border-crossing points means that Moscow now has exclusive control over what NATO troops and supplies get into or out of Afghanistan. In the months ahead, we should expect the "transit fees" that Russia charges to become tantamount to extortion.
Nor did either president mention intense Russian efforts to have convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout repatriated from the U.S. where he is serving a 25-year prison sentence. Perhaps that's because they didn't want to reveal a linkage on these issues.
On Syria, Obama claimed: "We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war..." And remarkably, he declared: "We agreed that there is still time and space to resolve diplomatically the issue of Iran's potential development of nuclear weapons..."
The Russian president mentioned no such agreements on Syria or Iran. Nor are any such agreements likely. Putin knows, if our president does not, that civil war is already underway in Syria. The Russians are well aware that the only hope for retaining their Mediterranean naval base at Tartus, Syria, is to keep Bashar Assad in power -- no matter how much Syrian blood is shed. While the American and Russian presidents were pretending to make nice in Mexico, two Russian Navy amphibious assault ships with a battalion of naval infantry -- Russian Marines -- were en route to Tartus. Putin knew that -- he ordered the deployment before leaving Moscow for Mexico. If Obama didn't know that, he should have.
And then there is the trivial matter of what Russia and the United States agree on regarding Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Obama continues to spin the naive fiction that diplomacy and sanctions will somehow convince Tehran to abandon their quest to build atomic bombs. Putin did not even mention the issue.
By the time Putin was standing beside Obama in Los Cabos, the Russian president had to know that diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons were dead. By early Monday morning in Mexico, representatives of the "six powers" -- China, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S. -- meeting with the Iranians in Moscow were informing their various foreign ministries that Tehran would not agree to any demands on ceasing uranium enrichment.
The Moscow "talks" with Iran formally ended on Tuesday, when the Iranians walked out. But the O-team had already granted waivers from the next round of sanctions against purchasers of Iranian oil. We're now told we should place our hope for a change in Tehran's nuclear aspirations on technical talks to be held next month in Istanbul, Turkey.
Rather than dissemble about nonexistent U.S.-Russian agreements on Syria or Iranian nukes, Vladimir Putin chose not to even mention them. Either Obama didn't know about Russian troops on the way to Syria and the collapse of the Moscow talks with Iran or he lied. No matter which, it's unacceptable.