Friday 25 May 2018

Syria to dominate G8 talks in Northern Ireland today

Prime Minister David Cameron (L) welcomes Russia's President Vladimir Putin to the Lough Erne golf resort where the G8 summit is taking place
Prime Minister David Cameron (L) welcomes Russia's President Vladimir Putin to the Lough Erne golf resort where the G8 summit is taking place

David Cameron is hoping for a show of unity over Syria from the world's most powerful nations after a late-night showdown at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Western nations faced down Russian president Vladimir Putin at a summit dinner over his support for the regime of dictator Bashar Assad.

Downing Street welcomed a "very positive" response from the Russian leader, reviving hopes for a peace conference to pave the way for a political transition in the war-torn Middle Eastern state.

While nobody at the summit was in any doubt about the continuing differences between Moscow and the West, sources suggested Mr Putin was ready to sign up to five key principles discussed at last night's dinner.

The five points include support for a transitional authority that will command the support of all Syria's communities - effectively ruling out a place for Assad.

Tension over Syria has dominated the annual gathering of world leaders, which comes days after president Barack Obama suggested the US may send weapons to opposition forces.

Mr Putin has set himself firmly against any Western supply of arms, warning that they could end up in the hands of extremists opposed to European values, who "eat the organs" of their enemies. He has also said he is ready to supply Assad with anti-aircraft missiles.

Mr Cameron put Syria top of the agenda at last night's summit dinner with the aim of restoring momentum towards a proposed peace conference in Geneva. Downing Street said the Prime Minister regarded the dinner, at the Lough Erne golfing resort near Enniskillen, as "an opportunity for a clarifying moment on Syria".

He asked fellow leaders - Mr Putin, Mr Obama, German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande, Italian PM Enrico Letta and Japan's Shinzo Abe - to consider whether the G8 can come together behind a consistent view on demanding access for humanitarian aid to reach Syria's people; taking on extremists on all sides of the conflict; condemning the use of chemical weapons as unacceptable; exploring whether the G8 could play a role in stabilising Syria after any change in regime; and supporting a political transition to a new government executive authority in Damascus which can command the consent of the Syrian people.

The PM is understood to want a clear statement of intent in the final summit communique. Last night, British officials said he was ready to go ahead with a statement with or without Russian agreement - but signals were that Mr Putin was ready to sign up.

Online Editors

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