Like passing ships headed to different ports, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin exchanged several minutes of pleasantries – likely their last conversation as heads of state – on Sunday at an economic summit in Lima, Peru.
Mr. Obama told reporters later that he had expressed support for a ceasefire in Syria, where Syrian and Russian militaries have caused humanitarian havoc, "sown by constant bombing attacks," said the president.
"As usual I was candid and courteous but very clear about the strong differences we have on policy," Obama said.
Russia became involved in the Syrian conflict in September 2015 with a position of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose campaign against his opposition has deteriorated into a civil war with massive civilian casualties. Russia has become the most heavily involved foreign power in the region, going against Western governments trying to establish a ceasefire and no-fly zone in Syria. The international community has called for an investigation by the International Criminal Court into whether Russia is committing war crimes, as Reuters reported last month.
In his brief exchange with Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Obama said he also urged the Russian president to uphold the Minsk agreement – signed and broken for the first time in 2014. It was brokered by France, Germany, and Russia on behalf of Ukraine and rebels in Donbas. The eastern region of Ukraine, bordering Russia, is the site of an armed conflict between the two parties. The conflict, sparked by Russia, has led to Western sanctions that Putin says are "severely harming" Russia's economy, as The Christian Science Monitor has reported.
The brief Lima encounter highlights the strained relationship between Obama and Putin. Russia was accused by US intelligence agencies of influencing the US presidential elections by leaking hacked emails from people close to Hillary Clinton.
President-elect Donald Trump has a warmer regard for the Russian leader, having praised him during the campaign, denied the hacking allegations against Russia, and promising better relations with the country.
Both Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad have praised the incoming American president and called him an ally.
This report uses materials from the Associated Press and Reuters.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to more clearly reflect the parties subject to the Minsk deal.]