Obama and Putin Clash Over Syria at U.N. Meeting

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a private meeting late on Monday on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly—the two presidents' first encounter in nearly a year.

Putin described the 100-minute meeting as "very constructive, businesslike and very frank—surprisingly frank." A White House official, quoted anonymously by the Washington Post said though Obama now has "clarity on their objectives," both men continued to disagree over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Nevertheless, Putin said that he is considering following the U.S. by launching airstrikes on ISIS.

The two presidents had earlier criticised each other for the situation in Syria in two bluntly worded speeches to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday. Obama, who addressed the room first, maintained that Assad could not remain as leader. Putin, who spoke more than an hour later, insisted that the current government should remain. Despite their conflicting goals, both leaders did express a willingness to work with each other on the Syrian issue, though it is not clear how this will happen.

During his speech Obama criticised Russia for its support of Assad, its takeover of Crimea in March 2014 and its support for separatist rebels in east Ukraine. "We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated," Obama said. "If it happens without consequences in Ukraine, it can happen to any nation here today."

Putin for his part, blamed the West for conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, caused by their attempts to create democracy in countries like Iraq and Libya. "I cannot help asking those who have forced this situation, do you realize now what you have done?" he said.

The Syrian civil war is now in its fifth year. To date, 250,000 people have been killed, 100,000 of them children while four million Syrians have been sent fleeing abroad, according to the UN. In recent weeks, Russia has increased its support to the Syrian government, sending both military equipment and troops to the regime. The U.S. for its part has spent $500 million in a bid to train 5,000 Syrian rebels to help fight ISIS. However, the program has been a failure, producing only a handful of fighters.