WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin joined Wednesday in calling for a tough global response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test, even as they remained at odds over Ukraine and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In a wide-ranging phone call, Obama and Putin appeared to speak past one another about the situation in eastern Ukraine, according to each country’s description of the call. The White House said Obama had called for Russia to fulfill its obligations under a cease-fire deal; the Kremlin said Putin has emphasized the need for Ukraine to meet its commitments under that same deal.
Both leaders voiced support for U.N. talks to resolve the civil war in Syria, in which Assad’s future remains a key sticking point. The U.S. has been pressing Russia to end its support for Assad and stop bombing the rebel groups fighting Assad’s regime. The Kremlin said both leaders had also called for a reduction in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have threatened to complicate diplomatic efforts on Syria.
Obama and Putin also broached the topic of increased military contacts between the U.S. and Russia to bolster the fight against the Islamic State group and other extremists, the Kremlin said. Although Russia says it’s targeting Islamic State fighters with airstrikes in Syria, the U.S. has accused Russia’s air campaign there of primarily going after U.S.-backed rebels that are fighting Assad.
On North Korea’s claim to have tested a hydrogen bomb, at least, the leaders seemed in agreement. The Kremlin said they’d agreed that if proven true, the claim would require “a tough international reaction,” while the White House said they’re discussed the need for “a strong and united international response.” The U.S. has cast doubt on the North’s claim that its test involved a hydrogen bomb but has said whatever was tested constituted a provocative act.
Despite steep disagreements on Ukraine, Syria and other issues, Obama and Putin have continued to engage on areas where their views at least partially overlap. Washington has praised Moscow as of late for its role in facilitating diplomatic efforts toward a political transition in Syria. The two leaders last met in person in November on the sidelines of a summit.
The Kremlin described Wednesday’s conversation as “frank and business-like.”