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Nightly News   |  September 05, 2013

For Obama and Putin, handshake can’t mask tension

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s greeting at the G-20 summit didn’t mask the strain between the two leaders. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.

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>>> as the debate goes on here, as we mentioned, the president far from home tonight. he's attending that g-20 summit in st. petersburg , russia, an event fraught with tension right now and where he came face-to-face as we showed you momentarily with president vladimir putin . our chief white house correspondent chuck todd traveling with the president, with us by satellite, chuck, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. usually in the world of diplomacy, a handshake is simply a handshake. but when it comes to watching a handshake between president obama and vladimir putin , whose differences on syria have completely overshadowed this economic conference. the hand itshake was friendly enough and even lasted a couple of extra beats. russian president putin welcoming president obama to st. petersburg for the g-20 summit. but the formal gesture could not obscure the fact that it came on the heels of yesterday's tense war of words , the president bluntly describing the relationship with the russians.

>> there's no doubt that, as i indicated a while back, we've kind of hit a wall in terms of additional progress.

>> reporter: and putin dropping all pretense of diplomacy, calling secretary of state john kerry a liar after kerry denied al qaeda was fighting alongside syrian rebels. mr. obama pressed on the issue of syrian use of chemical weapons today during a meeting with japan's prime minister.

>> i also look forward to having an extensive conversation about the situation in syria and i think our joint recognition that the use of chemical weapons in syria is not only a tragedy but also a violation of international law that must be addressed.

>> reporter: but during the first official meeting of the g-20 representatives, putin suggested that any discussion of syria be postponed until the working dinner.

>> mr. president, any progress on syria today in the talks?

>> we were talking about the economy.

>> reporter: walking alone into the dinner in an or naet palace of the russian czar , the president hoped he wouldn't be alone on syria . he conferred with european allies, all of whom he hopes help make his case that a military strike is necessary. but far away from the opulent dinner on the gutted streets of damasc damascus, the fighting continued unabated as described by bill neely .

>> reporter: this is the reality of the war in this area, a war of single shots and snipers. and there's nothing unusual about this, but, in fact, the front line here hasn't moved in months.

>> reporter: as for that dinner that took place in the palace behind me, brian, it lasted well over four hours. in fact, into the wee hours of the morning president obama didn't get back to his hotel room until 2:00 a.m . local time. and, remember, it was all about syria .

>> chuck todd on the road traveling with the president, st. petersburg tonight. chuck, thanks.