Russia seeks meeting with congressional leaders on Syria

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has turned down a request from Russian officials to meet with him to discuss Syria, his office told CNN on Thursday.

Reid is the second congressional leader to rebuff Moscow’s attempt to lobby the upper echelons of Congress against President Barack Obama’s plan to target Syria militarily over alleged chemical weapons use.

Russia is a key ally and trading partner of Damascus and has expressed doubts about Obama administration claims that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind a gas attack last month that U.S. authorities say killed 1,400 people.

Russian officials in Washington issued a formal request on Wednesday to meet with congressional leaders on the issue and were quickly rebuffed by House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy would not comment on the decisions by Boehner and Reid, a Democrat, to not meet.

“We are still working on the visit,” Maxim Abramov told CNN.

The president has sought congressional approval for attacking Syria with a limited strike expected to involve missiles fired from ships at military targets.

Boehner, Reid, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, all support Obama’s call to punish Syria, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved a resolution authorizing such action with strict conditions.

But Obama still faces a tough fight to secure support from a majority of House and Senate members, who are wrapping up a month-long recess and will return to Washington next week.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, remains undecided on military action, which is not supported by the public, according to polls.

Obama is meeting with G-20 leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia, and earlier in the day shook hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s possible the two could talk on the margins of the G-20 summit, officials have said.

By Lisa Desjardins