The Syrian conflict stole the spotlight from economic issues as the G8 summit opened in Northern Ireland on Monday, with US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin failing to find common ground in pre-summit talks.
The war in Syria dominated the start of the G8 summit on the banks of Lough Erne in Northern Ireland on Monday as Western leaders stepped up pressure on Russia to cool its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Prime Minister David Cameron pushed to set a new time frame for a Geneva peace conference, but the focus remained on tense talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama.
Since Washington declared it would supply small arms and ammunition to rebels after concluding that the regime had crossed a "red line" by using chemical weapons, Obama and Putin are now offering military support to opposing sides in the civil war.
Speaking to reporters just after the talks on Monday evening, Putin said Russia and the US both want to stop the violence in Syria and have agreed to push all parties in the conflict to go ahead with peace talks in Geneva.
“Of course our opinions do not converge, but all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria,” he said.
Obama, for his part, acknowledged that they had “different perspectives”, but shared an interest in reducing the bloodshed in Syria.
The EU and the US also announced the formal start of negotiations on the world’s biggest free trade pact, intended to boost growth and create jobs in the flagging global economy.
On Syria, ‘G7 plus one’
Though Cameron had wanted the G8 summit to focus on efforts to crack down on tax evasion, the conflict in Syria, which has resulted in over 90,000 deaths, threatened to cast a shadow over all other issues on the table.
The British prime minister said his priority regarding Syria was to ensure that the Geneva peace conference, originally planned for June, goes ahead later this year.
“What we do need to do is bring about this peace conference and this transition, so that people in Syria can have a government that represents them, rather than a government that’s trying to butcher them,” Cameron said in a television interview.
On the eve of the summit, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that few G8 leaders expected Putin to change his position.
“I don’t think we should fool ourselves. This is the G7 plus one,” Harper told reporters in Dublin. “Unless there’s a big shift of position on his part, we’re not going to get a common position with him at the G8.”
French President François Hollande also criticised Russia for arming Syria’s regime ahead of a meeting with Putin.
“How can we accept that Russia continues to deliver arms to Bashar al-Assad’s regime while the opposition receives very few and is being massacred?” Hollande told journalists.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-06-17