This week's G-20 summit in Mexico included nations that have 90 percent of the world's gross domestic product and two-thirds of its population. Yet the session appeared to accomplish little, particularly during President Obama's bilateral meeting with recently re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Photographs of the two leaders after their two-hour talk did not indicate much of a meeting of the minds, although Mr. Putin, the former intelligence officer, generally offers a dour expression.
It's hard to imagine much common ground on the principal subject discussed: the future of Syria. President Obama wants to help end the fighting there and to get rid of its president, Bashar Assad.
Mr. Putin sees Syria as part of Russia's sphere of influence and does not want the United States to lead a campaign to change its regime. Syria hosts Russia's only naval base on the Mediterranean Sea. Russia also has criticized the United States and NATO for their roles in helping to depose Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Other touchy subjects between the United States and Russia include U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe, which Russia sees as a threat. Washington seeks to use a northern route through Russia to supply its forces in Afghanistan now that Pakistan has blocked its former channel. And Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney roiled the waters with his recent claim that Russia is America's No. 1 geopolitical foe.
Mr. Putin attended the G-20 summit just as representatives of the United Nations Security Council and Germany met in Moscow with leaders of Iran to discuss that nation's nuclear program. Had Mr. Putin remained in Moscow, the heat would have been on him to lean on Iran to produce a useful outcome to the meeting, which remains uncertain.
The most positive product of this week's G-20 meeting was a new pledge of $75 billion to the International Monetary Fund by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to beef up IMF resources for bailing out nations with shaky economies. China alone put up $43 billion. The United States, whose own economy is shaky, contributed nothing.