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Putin, Obama in showdown

UNITED NATIONS—Russian President Vladimir Putin squared up for a titanic clash Monday with his US rival Barack Obama at the United Nations as the Kremlin leader pushes for a new coalition against the Islamic State.

Putin and Obama are due to make competing speeches before the UN General Assembly in New York, and will come face-to-face for their first official meeting in over two years at a time of high tension.

In the run-up to the showdown, Putin―isolated by the West over the crisis in Ukraine―has dramatically thrust himself back into the spotlight with a lightning push on the 4.5-year conflict in Syria.

Moscow has put Washington on the back foot by dispatching troops and aircraft to the war-torn country and pushing reluctant world leaders to admit its long-standing ally Bashar al-Assad could cling to power.

The Kremlin strongman called in an interview ahead of the UN summit for “a common platform for collective action” against Islamic State jihadists that would supersede a US-led coalition and involve Assad’s forces.

On the ground, Russia seems to have already started putting the pieces together by agreeing with Iraq, Syria and Iran that their officers will work together in Baghdad to share intelligence on IS.  

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that, despite the sharp disagreements, he saw that Moscow and Washington shared a “desire to work together” on Syria after a meeting with his American counterpart John Kerry on Sunday.

But the US has expressed deep concern over Russia’s maneuvering in Syria and insists Obama will not let Putin off the hook over Ukraine after he shattered ties with the West by seizing the Crimea peninsula and allegedly fueling a separatist conflict.   

“We’re just at the beginning of trying to understand what the Russians’ intentions are in Syria, in Iraq, and to try to see if there are mutually beneficial ways forward here,” a senior State Department official said.

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