Obama: 'Gaps of trust' preventing Syria cease-fire

BEIJING — Global leaders ended a major economic summit in eastern China on Monday with a forceful endorsement of free trade. The crowded agenda for the two-day meeting in Hangzhou included the Koreas, Syria and refugees.

During a 90-minute meeting on the sidelines of the summit, Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to make a breakthrough in negotiating a cease-fire agreement for Syria.

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"We haven't yet closed the gaps in a way where we think it would actually work," Obama said during a news conference in Hangzhou.

The two leaders agreed to keep looking for a path to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in the war-torn state. They also discussed Ukraine and U.S. concerns over cyber-security.

In a joint statement on the summit, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping and the leaders of Britain, Japan, Russia and other Group of 20 economies pledged to boost sluggish global growth by promoting innovation and to strengthen the global financial system.

The pledge recognized that economic strains around are fueling political tensions around the world. “The benefits of trade and open markets must be communicated to the wider public more effectively,” said the joint statement.

There was heavy security for the event in Hangzhou, a city of 2.5 million people. Many streets downtown were deserted.

The summit got off to a rocky start Saturday when there was no staircase at the airport for Obama to exit his plane. The president used an alternative exit, but quarrels with Chinese officials broke out on the tarmac and at other venues over access by U.S. officials and the traveling press.

North Korea added to the drama by firing three ballistic missiles off its east coast on Monday. At about the same time, China's Xi was telling his South Korean counterpart, Park Gyun-hye, that China opposes plans to deploy a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea.

Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to travel to Laos later Monday, where he plans to push for closer economic ties with Laos and Southeast Asia, and raise human rights abuses in the one-party communist state.

But that visit threatened to be overshadowed by comments from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte warned Obama not to question him about extrajudicial killings in his country when they meet in Laos this week, saying that if he did “son of a bitch, I will swear at you.”

Obama said he has instructed his aides to determine whether it would still be productive to hold the face-to-face meeting with Duterte.

During the news conference in Hangzhou, Obama said his visit to Laos would be a symbolic one and that he hoped to make progress in accounting for missing U.S. servicemen from the Vietnam war. Obama said “we have deep commitments” to account for those lost during the war.

The president was also asked about NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem to bring attention to racial injustice.

Obama said it was not an anti-American gesture and that it was clear that the San Francisco 49ers player is sincere and “cares about some real, legitimate issues.”

Onyanga-Omara reported from London. 


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