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Obama will have hands full with prickly Putin at G20 summit

President Obama will sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit Monday. Putin has already shown that he's in no mood to kowtow to the US.

By Staff writer / June 18, 2012

The alliance between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (l.) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (both shown here in a file photo) has been a stumbling block for US-Russia relations in recent months.

Sergei Chirikov/AP/File

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WASHINGTON

US-Russia relations have deteriorated since the days of President Obama’s “reset” with former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev – the most recent sign of a refreeze being last week’s dust-up between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s material support for Syrian strong man Bashar al-Assad.

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But when Mr. Obama sits down Monday with the once-and-once-again Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Mexico, the US leader will be out to raise the conversation from a narrow focus on differences over Syria to a broader vision of the two world powers’ common interests.

Those interests range from stability in Afghanistan and finding a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions to seeing Europe get through the euro crisis without upending the global economy, White House officials say. Underscoring that common agenda is the fact that American and Russian negotiators will sit down in Moscow with their Iranian counterparts – along with other world powers – to discuss Iran’s nuclear program even as Obama and Mr. Putin meet.

Even on Syria, Obama will emphasize the “areas of considerable overlap” in the two countries’ objectives, one National Security Council official says. Both the US and Russia support the Kofi Annan peace plan, the official notes, and have similar “strategic objectives” that include stopping the Syrian crisis from engulfing a volatile region in a larger conflict.

But that doesn’t mean Obama’s task will be easy. The nationalist and confrontational Putin has already made it clear that he intends to deep-six Mr. Medvedev’s friendly and cooperative approach to the US, and to Obama in particular.

Russia is watching the progress of Russia-focused legislation in the US Congress that targets Russian corruption and human-rights violators. And then there’s the election-year complication of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney casting Russia as “America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

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