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Obama at the UN: I'm willing to work with Russia and Iran to resolve Syria

President Obama speaks at the UN General Assembly.
President Obama speaks at the UN General Assembly.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama, in a United Nations General Assembly speech otherwise laced with explicit and implicit criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin, nonetheless said he would be willing to work with Russia and Iran to find a solution to Syria's civil war.

Here is what Obama said:

While military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria. Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully. The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. We must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.

The big caveat here is that Obama went on to set as his requirement "a managed transition away from Assad into a new leader and an inclusive government." So Assad has to go, and his replacement has to meet a standard of inclusiveness. That's been Obama's position from the beginning; that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has to go, although Obama has focused just on Assad rather than saying the entire regime should be replaced.

Obama's offer to work with Russia and Iran on Syria may or may not be workable in practice: It's going to be hard for them to find common ground on what a post-Assad government would look like, and what policy to take toward the non-ISIS rebels whom Russia and Iran see categorically as terrorists.

Still, Obama has little choice at this point. Iran has such a heavy presence on the ground in Syria, now joined by a small but significant Russian force, that it will exert tremendous influence over the conflict there and can effectively veto any peace effort. At this point, the question is perhaps more whether Iran and Russia will agree to work with the US than the other way around.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his speech at the United Nations shortly, is expected to harshly criticize the US and Western countries for their actions in the Middle East and call on them to follow his lead in Syria, where he has intervened to prop up Assad's government.

Later today, Putin and Obama are scheduled to meet in person for the first time in months, where they will surely discuss Syria. It is difficult to say whether any common ground exists, but Obama has signaled that he's at least theoretically open to finding such common ground and working toward a solution.