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Obama to visit Russia in September

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US President Barack Obama will visit Saint Petersburg for September's G20 summit and will also hold a meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June.

The White House made the announcement Friday after the leaders spoke by phone to discuss the Syria crisis amid testy relations between Russia and the United States, which have deteriorated since Obama's first term.

Russia had hoped that Obama would pay an official visit to the country last year, his first since Putin returned to the presidency, but Washington's ties with Moscow have been uneasy, and the visit never took place.

Obama's announcement means that he will also not travel to Russia before the G20 summit, in another disappointment to the Kremlin.

Washington and Moscow have been especially at odds over Syria, and Russia's role in vetoing UN Security Council action to censure President Bashar al-Assad for his crackdown on an opposition revolt that has killed 70,000 people.

"The two presidents agreed on the need to advance a political transition to end the violence as soon as possible," said a White House statement, referring to Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will continue to work together on the issue following their meeting in Berlin on Tuesday, the White House said.

A statement issued earlier from the Kremlin said that Putin noted the need to end "military activities" in Syria as soon as possible.

Russia also denounced a new US pledge to provide direct aid, but no arms, to Syrian rebel fighters, saying it will fuel more violence in the nearly two-year war.

Despite the tensions, Obama vowed in his State of the Union address in February to work with the Kremlin to reduce both Russian and American stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have been especially harmed by the Obama administration's criticism of Moscow's deteriorating human rights record under Putin.

There has also been tension over adoptions of Russian orphans by US nationals in recent weeks.

The spat started after the US Congress passed a bill last year targeting Russian officials with sanctions over the prison death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Russia retaliated with a ban on all US adoptions, saying Russian children in the United States were abused and even murdered by their adoptive parents.

One of Obama's major foreign policy achievements of his first term was a "reset" of relations with Russia engineered with former president Dmitry Medvedev, but the return of Putin has soured the mood.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130301/obama-visit-russia-september