Under the pall of another territorial crisis in Europe, President Obama and a cast of world leaders tried to set aside grievances Friday to commemorate the common cause and military might that turned the tide of war against global oppression seven decades ago.
As jets flew missing-man formations and guns fired booming salutes, Obama joined more than a dozen world leaders — including European heads of state; Britain's Queen Elizabeth II; and Obama's current rival on the world stage, Russian President Vladimir Putin — for emotional ceremonies on the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings.
Speaking in a cemetery for U.S. servicemen killed during the invasion, Obama recalled how more than 160,000 U.S. and Allied troops stormed ashore and yet failed to capture any of their major objectives on that first, longest day. The months-long Battle of Normandy ultimately resulted in more than 425,000 Allied and German casualties.
"We say it now as if it couldn't be any other way. But in the annals of history, the world had never seen anything like it," Obama said, looking out over nearly 10,000 American grave markers on the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach.
Hundreds of veterans and their families came, several sitting behind the president in old military uniforms, theirs hands resting on canes. When Obama expressed his thanks for their service, they rose slowly, if they could, to accept the applause.
Amid the tributes to the young men who faced and fell to withering fire on the beaches and bluffs here, private conversations focused on more current violence.
In a secluded chateau between ceremonies, Obama and Putin huddled by a doorway for their first face-to-face conversation since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in March. Some say the land grab carries uncomfortable echoes of the border-crossing aggression that Moscow and Washington joined forces to defeat in World War II.
The then-Soviet Union suffered an estimated 24 million dead, more than any other country in the war. About 420,000 Americans were killed.
The Obama-Putin meeting Friday was brief and unscripted, the White House said, lasting about 15 minutes after a lunch hosted by French President Francois Hollande. But it marked another twist in the drama-filled relationship between two leaders with no love lost and no way to work around each other.
According to Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security advisor, Obama urged Putin to recognize the newly elected president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, as the legitimate leader, "ceasing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and stopping the provision of arms and materiel across the border."
Rhodes said Obama "made clear that a failure to take these steps would only deepen Russia's isolation."
TV footage of the pair talking suggested that Putin appeared to interrupt Obama at times, although it's unclear what he said.
Just before they met, Putin was seen talking to Poroshenko at the lunch. The two leaders spoke briefly, standing on each side of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Officials later said Putin and Poroshenko discussed arranging a formal cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, where gun battles between government forces and Russian-backed separatists have claimed scores of lives, as well as other steps to ease tensions.
"They spoke out in favor of the soonest stop to the bloodshed … and also of the cessation of hostilities," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Itar-Tass, a Russian news service. "Besides, a lack of alternative to a peaceful political settlement was confirmed."
A Poroshenko spokeswoman, Irina Friz, gave further details on her Facebook page. She said negotiations would start Sunday for a plan to take joint action to "prevent constant Ukrainian border crossing by Russian militants," among other goals.
A senior Obama administration official, who briefed reporters later on condition he not be identified, called the discussion "a positive development" but not a substitute for Putin formally recognizing Poroshenko's election.
The official said Ukraine's election "provided for a new basis of legitimacy for the government. It provides a new interlocutor" for Putin. "There is a window open here."
U.S. and European leaders initially vowed to isolate Russia politically and economically, hoping that sanctions and other pressure would persuade Putin to stop aiding separatists in other parts of eastern Ukraine.
Now, with Putin pulling troops off the Ukrainian border and a newly elected leadership in Kiev, White House officials say they're no longer trying to ramp up pressure but are still working at persuading Putin to take other steps.