The first day of the G20 summit, traditionally a platform for economic debate, was dominated Thursday by the Syrian crisis, with Russian President and summit host Vladimir Putin proposing that world leaders discuss over dinner the United States' call for a military strike against the Syrian regime.
Putin told the summit's opening session at the Constantine Palace on the outskirts of St. Petersburg that it would be best if discussions about Syria took place during the evening meal Thursday so as not to distract from pre-planned agendas in the event's other meetings.
The gathering of the Group of 20, a club that includes countries with two-thirds of the world's population and over 90 percent of its economic output, was expected to tackle issues of financial regulation, shadow banking and tax avoidance, but it has become increasingly overshadowed by US President Barack Obama's call for American military intervention in the Syrian civil war.
Putin has led international opposition to such intervention. He has said that an attack on Syria without the backing of the United Nations Security Council would be an act of "aggression" and has accused the US Secretary of State John Kerry of deliberately lying about the situation inside Syria, Kazinform refers to RIA Novosti.
Obama appeared increasingly isolated Thursday as, after flying in to St. Petersburg, other world leaders openly expressed their opposition to a military intervention against Damascus.
The two most senior European Union officials, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and President of the European Commission Jose Barroso, called for a "political" solution to the Syrian crisis during a joint press conference in St. Petersburg on Thursday.
"The situation remains a stain on the world's conscience," Barroso said. "The European Union believes that efforts should be evolved towards a political solution to the conflict."
China also spoke out against unilateral US military action in Syria, warning that such action could lead to severe economic problems.
"Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price - it will cause a hike in the oil price," Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told a briefing, Reuters reported.
Even the Pope appeared to enter the debate with a letter to the G20 leaders calling on them to "lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution" in Syria, according to a copy of the letter posted on the Vatican's website.
The dinner for G20 participants during which Syria will be discussed, will take place at Peterhof, another former tsarist palace outside St. Petersburg, and will be addressed by Putin and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters. The dinner will be followed by a "musical fountain show" in the grounds of the seafront palace.