David Cameron is to meet world leaders in Turkey on Sunday to discuss how to combat terrorism and bring peace to Syria in the wake of the Paris attacks that left 129 dead and several hundred injured.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the killings and President François Hollande of France will be the only major political figure absent at the summit as he oversees the heightened security operations in Paris. He is also expected to take part in the three days of official mourning.
The G20 meeting was due to address terrorism and migration at a dinner on Sunday evening, before discussing climate change, corporate tax avoidance and the overall state of the world economy on Monday.
The discussions will now be dominated by the growing concern that Isis is moving beyond its sanctuary in northern Syria and transforming into a global terrorist network capable of wreaking devastation in western cities.
The attacks are expected to give added urgency to striking at Isis within Syria and finding a broader peace settlement. Cameron is also due to hold bilateral talks with Vladimir Putin on Monday, his first since the last G20 in Brisbane a year ago. The British prime minister will be trying to gauge whether there is any possibility of the Russians dropping their commitment to Bashar al-Assad being able to stand in Syrian elections, and whether a deal could be struck about Assad’s role in an interim administration. He is also likely to discuss the Russian bombing campaign, and its apparent targeting of moderate Syrian forces opposed to Assad.
A peace conference in Vienna on Saturday – the second in a week – agreed there should be elections in Syria in 18 months, but there was no agreement on whether Assad, seen as a potential war criminal by the west, should be allowed to stand in those elections. The west has said he could play a part in the transition, but there has also been no agreement on which of the myriad groups in Syria would be classified as terrorist and as a result debarred from the political process leading to a new government. It is regarded as a form of progress that the talks involving all the key regional players, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the EU and the US are taking place at all.
Meanwhile, the Turkish hosts at the G20 summit are coping with 2 million refugees and operating as the chief transit country to the EU for Syrian refugees. They are expected to urge Obama to take a more aggressive stance in enforcing no-fly zones and safe havens. Obama has been wary of such a move, saying it would require ground troops to make such havens truly safe from attacks either by Syrian government forces, or Isis.
The US is frustrated by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s reluctance to join the campaign against Isis, though his country eventually decided to start bombing the militants this summer and also allowed the US to launch its own airstrikes from key bases in the country. Erdoğan is concerned the air campaign is helping the formation of a Kurdish independent state.
There was no immediate sign that the Paris outrage will lead Cameron to change his calculus about seeking Commons authorisation for the RAF to extend airstrikes from Iraq to Syria, partly because there is no sign that the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is willing to drop his opposition to such an air campaign.
Corbyn was due to have security briefings this weekend and has been resolute in his condemnations of the Paris terror outrage. But he was also due to condemn the futility of western wars in the Middle East in a speech he withdrew in the wake of the Paris attacks.
More than 250,000 people have been killed in Syria in clashes between rebels and forces loyal to Assad. Eleven million people have been uprooted from their homes, sparking a massive migration crisis in Europe that is also expected to be on the agenda at the G20 meeting.
All the leaders at the summit know that any action against Isis is likely to lead to retaliation. France has been targeted due to its forward role against Isis, including its air bombing campaign. The Russian airliner downed over Sinai was attacked after Moscow intervened in Syria. But it has also unleashed bombs in Lebanon.
So Obama has authorised airstrikes and sent small teams of special forces acting as advisers to aid Iraqi military units, Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters on the ground, some of whom have been making strides in recent days in pushing back Isis in Iraq.