Italian commentary views Obama’s meeting with Putin

Text of report by Italian popular privately-owned financial newspaper Il Sole-24 Ore, on 19 June

[Commentary by Mario Platero in the "L’Analisi" column: "Too Many Fronts Open for Obama a Few Months Before the Election"]

Appearance and substance can be very different. That is the message that National Security Council number two Ben Rhodes gave us yesterday when telling us about the summit meeting between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, the first meeting between the two men in their capacity as presidents. Appearance: During the talks Putin was slouching in his armchair, looking bored, and emitting a "who gives a damn" air from almost every pore. Obama, his jaw taut, looked only at the interpreter. Rhodes said: "It is in Putin’s nature to be like that. The two men hardly know each other."

That may be, perhaps appearances lie. But the substance boiled down to a unilateral message from Barack Obama to Putin: Bashar al-Asad must go, a new political process must be set in motion, it is necessary to move towards democracy. The United States hoped that Putin would agree to a "Yemen-style" solution, with Al-Asad out and a number two in his place to impart continuity and also to offer Russia assurances that its bases in the country will not be touched. Was any progress made in that direction? Rhodes claim there was. The proof? Putin, too, is in favour of a "political process." The substance is that the meeting lasted far longer than planned and that each of the two leaders explained his position on the Syrian question in detail.

The idea is that progress must be made at the United Nations, that the political process must be monitored in order to call Russia’s bluff. "If we do not achieve any results, then we will also have other options," Rhodes added cryptically. Enforced defenestration? It is complex game, but it is also a key game on the Middle Eastern geopolitical chess board, which also involves Iran. While change has been minimal for now, the clarification was important. Putin and Obama discussed also Iran and the 5+1 talks under way in Moscow: "We believe that there is still room for a diplomatic solution; the President believes that. We shall see tomorrow (today for the reader – Il Sole-24 Ore editor’s note)," Rhodes said in conclusion. Knowing Tehran, we shall be seeing very little.

Then they discussed the economy. The White House’s attacks on Europe were extremely tough: "The central problem is Europe," said Lael Brainard, who is in charge of international affairs in the Treasury, adding: "Mrs Merkel explained the fiscal policy path being pursued, but the solution is going to have to come from Europe." Sure enough, Obama met with Merkel for 45 minutes and he met with the European leaders after dinner. The main topic? A boost to demand, but we know that Merkel does not subscribe to that point of view.

For the time being, the substance where strong progress both in Syria and in Europe is concerned, does not really jump up and hit one in the face, after such a long wait. At best, a long process is slowly moving forward. Having to distinguish between appearances and substance, the best bet is not to make any move at all.

Source: Il Sole 24 Ore, Milan, in Italian 19 Jun 12 p 5

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