HANGZHOU, China — President Barack Obama said Monday the U.S. and Russia have not given up on negotiations that could stem the bloodshed in Syria, but acknowledged leaders are challenged by “gaps of trust” between the rival powers.
Significant sticking points remain in the negotiations over a creation of an unlikely U.S.-Russian military partnership focusing firepower on “common enemies” in Syria, Obama said. He acknowledged that a flurry of diplomacy at an economic summit and a 90-minute meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, earlier Monday did not yield a breakthrough.
“Given the gaps of trust that exist, that’s a tough negotiation,” Obama told a press conference closing the Group of 20 summit. “We haven’t yet closed the gaps.”
Obama didn’t detail the trouble spots, although he suggested the U.S. has concerns about Russia holding up its end of the bargain and enforcing the terms. Any deal would depend on Moscow using its influence with Syrian President Bashar Assad to persuade the Syrian leader to ground planes and stop the assault on opposition forces. Obama said the aim was to reach “meaningful, serious, verifiable cessations of hostilities in Syria.”
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov have for weeks been trying to broker a deal that would curb the violence between the Russian-ally Assad’s government forces and moderate rebels backed by the U.S.
The deal depends on the two sides agreeing to closer militarily coordination against extremist groups operating in Syria, something the Russians have long sought and the U.S. resisted.
Obama has expressed skepticism that Russia would hold to its agreement. The State Department has said it wants nationwide cease-fire between Assad’s military and the rebels, rather than another time-limited agreement like ones that failed before.
Obama’s meeting with Putin came as the Russia leader is playing a prominent role in the presidential campaign at home. U.S. officials blame Russian intelligence for a hack on the Democratic National Committee that resulted in a leak of emails damaging to its presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Putin has denied his government was involved, but cheered the release of the information.
The president said expressed concerns about cybersecurity issues with Putin, but would not detail the discussions.
Multiple bomb blasts in Syrian cities kill at least 12
DAMASCUS, Syria — At least 12 people were killed in a string of bombings inside government territory in Syria, state media reported Monday.
The SANA news agency reported blasts in the coastal city of Tartus, the central city of Homs, the suburbs of the capital Damascus, and the northeastern city of Hasakeh.
Attackers detonated two bombs at the entrance of the government stronghold of Tartus along the international coastal highway, SANA said, killing five. A car bomb at the Arzoneh bridge was followed by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt who targeted the gathering crowd. The city, a stronghold of support for President Bashar Assad, is home to a major Russian naval base.
The governor of Homs province said a car bomb struck a military checkpoint in the provincial capital, Homs, killing two soldiers and injuring four others, one critically. The city, Syria’s third largest, is largely under government control, with only one neighborhood still under opposition control. Monday’s bomb exploded in the government-held Bab Tadmor district, SANA said.
2 shot to death at carnival before NY West Indian Day Parade
NEW YORK — Two people were shot to death Monday at a carnival celebrating Caribbean culture in the hours before the city’s annual West Indian Day Parade.
The bloodshed came amid unprecedented precautions taken by police to ensure safety at an event routinely marred by violence and a year after an aide to the governor was killed by a stray bullet.
A male in his late teens or early 20s was shot in the chest at around 3:50 a.m. Monday in Brooklyn during J’ouvert, the New York Police Department said. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.
A 66-year-old woman was shot in the hand and the arm at the same location and was taken to a hospital in stable condition, police said.
About 25 minutes later, a 22-year-old woman was shot in the head just a block away, police said. She died at a hospital.
Police say they’re investigating whether the shootings are related.
Young activists ride anti-China mood to win Hong Kong vote
HONG KONG — A new wave of young Hong Kong activists seeking to change the way the southern Chinese city is governed by Beijing emerged Monday as the big winners of legislative elections.
Record turnout in Sunday’s vote helped sweep the newcomers into office, most notably Nathan Law, a 23-year-old former student leader of massive pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2014. He garnered the second-highest number of votes in his six-seat Hong Kong Island constituency.
Law’s party, Demosisto , founded earlier this year with teen protest leader Joshua Wong, advocates a referendum on “self-determination” on the future status of Hong Kong, which is in the middle of a 50-year transition period to Chinese rule.
“It shows how Hong Kong people want to change,” Law told reporters when asked about his victory. “People are voting for a new way and new future of our democratic movement.”
In another surprising result, official results showed that Yau Wai-Ching, 25, of Youngspiration, which was formed during the 2014 protests and proposes a similar plan as Demosisto, secured a seat in the Legislative Council. The group’s other candidate, 30-year-old Sixtus Leung, also appeared headed for a win, according to incomplete results for his constituency.
Seoul says North Korea fires 3 medium-range missiles
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Monday fired three medium-range missiles that traveled about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and landed near Japan in an apparent show of force timed to coincide with the Group of 20 economic summit in China, South Korean officials said.
North Korea has staged a series of recent missile tests with increasing range, part of a program that aims to eventually build long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
Such tests are fairly common when international attention is turned to Northeast Asia, and this one came as world leaders gathered in eastern China for the G-20 summit of advanced and emerging economies. China is North Korea’s only major ally, but ties between the neighbors have frayed amid a string of North Korean nuclear and missile tests and what many outsiders see as other provocations in recent years.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the three ballistic missiles, all believed to be Rodongs, were launched from the western North Korean town of Hwangju and flew across the country before splashing into the sea.
A Joint Chiefs of Staff statement described the launches as an “armed protest” meant to demonstrate North Korea’s military capability on the occasion of the G-20 summit and days before the North Korean government’s 68th anniversary.
The U.S. State Department said Monday’s launch and other previous launches violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korea from launches using ballistic missile technology.
“We will raise our concerns at the UN about the threat posed to international security by these programs,” said spokesperson John Kirby in a statement.