Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to sign a statement at the Group of Eight summit calling for the establishment of a “transitional government” in Syria as quickly as possible, putting more pressure on his ally, President Bashar al-Assad.
The text of the statement on Syria called for “a transitional governing body with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent,” while stopping short of calling for Assad’s ouster. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters it was “unthinkable” that a transition government could include Assad.
The G-8 declaration says the leaders endorse a negotiated end to the civil war and commits $1.5 billion for humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees.
Putin was isolated among fellow G-8 leaders, including host Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama, for backing Assad in a bloody conflict that has killed more than 93,000 people. A British official, who asked not to be identified, called the summit a clarifying moment in differences over Syria.
While backing a transitional government marked a move toward the position of the U.S. and other Western nations, differences remain. Putin said today there is no proof that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, as stated by the U.S., U.K. and France, and that arming the rebels may destabilize the situation more.
He said Assad’s opposition includes extremists, comparing them to the killers of a British soldier last month in London.
“Among the Syrian opposition there are very many such criminals, not all but many, who committed the brutal murder in London,” he said. “The Europeans want to supply weapons to these people? And who will then control where and in whose hands they end up?”
After a meeting with French President Francois Hollande today, Obama said both governments “have strong evidence” that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the president to Berlin that the U.S. is “pleased with the language” in the G-8 declaration. He said it represented a “good convergence” of views from all the leaders.
The next step will be a meeting of representatives from the U.S., Russia and the United Nations next week, he said.
“We want the Russians to work with the regime to make sure they come to the table in a serious fashion,” Rhodes said.
The language on transition in the statement went no further than that agreed to in Geneva in June 2012 by the United Nations-sponsored Syria Action Group. Still, Cameron said it represented progress. “That was something that was slipping away over the last few weeks, bought back onto the table and agreed right here,” he said.
Cameron made a direct offer to Assad’s supporters within Syria. “To those who have been loyal to Assad but who know he has to go, and who want stability in their country, they should take note at this point,” he said. “Let’s get on with the process of naming people from the regime, from the opposition that can sit down and talk.”
The prime minister also said it was an achievement to get the G-8 to call for an investigation into whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria. “Reaching this agreement was not easy,” he said. “It was made possible only by the frank, open, leader-to-leader discussion at this G-8.”
At the same time as Cameron was hailing progress, Putin was attacking Obama’s decision to supply small arms to the opposition elsewhere at the summit. He told reporters it would destabilize the situation.
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