1 of 4 | U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Russian President Valdimir Putin toast Monday during a luncheon hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the 70th annual UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York City. Obama held a bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and with have a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin later in the day. Pool photo by Chip Somodevilla/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK , Sept. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin took verbal jabs at each other at the annual United Nations General Assembly, presenting starkly different views on the Syrian crisis and Middle East stability, but also revealing signs the two leaders may be inching towards compromises on Syria's civil war.
Obama and Putin met on the sidelines of the meeting Monday, shortly after they both addressed the international community. Afterward, Putin said his first formal meeting with Obama in two years was "very constructive and surprisingly open."
There were no breakthroughs in the face-to-face, but there seemed to be more of a coming together than in the past.
A senior Obama administration official said the two leaders agreed to explore a political resolution to Syria and decided there must be conversations between U.S. and Russian military officials to de-escalate the conflict there.
"We have a lot in common," Putin told reporters. He said "disputes remain" but "we have sound grounds to work on the points of concern together."
Their 90-minute private meeting came after the two leaders spoke at the open session, taking veiled potshots at each other. At the heart of the dispute between the two is Russian ally and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. wants Assad to leave office, while Russia believes the Syrian government is the best option for defeating the Islamic State.
During his address, Obama said, "we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo." He warned of "dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world."
Putin talked about efforts to support Assad as the best bulwark against the IS and other militant groups, even if the White House said Assad's departure would be the best political solution to the Syrian crisis. Putin defended Assad as a stabilizing force who is "valiantly fighting terrorism face to face."