Thursday 18 January 2018

Putin warning as global leaders agree blueprint for Syria's future

Robert Winnett Enniskillen

LEADERS attending the G8 summit in Northern Ireland have set out an agreed blueprint for the future of Syria.

But British Prime Minister David Cameron was warned yet again not to consider arming the Syrian rebels by Vladimir Putin, who compared them to the killers of Drummer Lee Rigby.

Mr Cameron and Barack Obama persuaded Mr Putin to agree to plans for a new transitional government, which could eventually replace the Assad regime, following intensive private discussions over dinner on Monday night.

Mr Cameron appealed directly to supporters of the Syrian dictator to turn against Assad – promising that they could have a role in a future Syrian government. He said that they should "know in their hearts" that the Assad regime was doomed.

Mr Cameron heralded the deal agreed on the final day of the G8 summit as a "strong statement", which will pave the way for a Syrian peace conference over the summer.

It was agreed with Mr Putin unexpectedly after months of the Russian president propping up the Assad regime. Although yesterday's G8 statement does not call for Assad to step aside, it does agree to work on a "transitional governing body . . . formed by mutual consent", which British sources said amounted to a tacit acknowledgement that the dictator should be replaced.

However, within hours of the deal being signed, Mr Putin again warned other G8 leaders against arming the Syrian rebels – whom he compared to the killers of Mr Rigby in London.

Assassination

"Recently, the British people suffered a huge loss," the Russian president said. "It was a tragedy next to his barracks on the streets of London. A violent assassination, a very brutal killing of a British serviceman.

"Clearly the [Syrian] opposition is not composed all of this but many of them are exactly the same as the ones who perpetrated the killing in London.

"If we equip these people, if we arm them, what is going to control and verify who is going to have these weapons, including in Europe as well?"

Mr Putin's remarks came after Mr Cameron heralded the Syrian agreement, saying that G8 leaders had managed to "overcome fundamental differences to agree a way forward".

Mr Cameron said that although the statement stopped short of demanding Assad go, it was "unthinkable that President Assad can play any part in the future of his country".

The centrepiece of the G8 deal was an agreement to keep all Syrian public services, including the military, "restored or preserved" during any transition of power.

In Iraq, hundreds of thousands of supporters of Saddam Hussein were barred from working for the new government in a decision that fuelled ethnic tension in the country.

Mr Cameron said: "What we don't want to happen in Syria is for the regime to go and for chaos to follow. That is what happened in Iraq."

He also insisted that no decision had been taken on arming the rebels. Any decision is now likely to be delayed until after a Syrian peace conference in Geneva, which is expected to be held in August.

The Russian Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State will be "in charge of preparing the underlying principles of the settlement in the Syrian crisis" ahead of the Geneva conference. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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