G-8 leaders call for immediate peace talks on Syria



Isolated at global summit, Russia’s Putin clashed with other leaders, resisting their attempts to get him to agree to anything that would imply Assad should step down.

Global leaders called for peace talks to be held as soon as possible to resolve the Syrian civil war but they failed to mention the fate of President Bashar Assad in a final G-8 summit communique.

Isolated at the G-8, Russia’s Vladimir Putin had clashed with other leaders over the conflict and resisted their attempts to get him to agree to anything that would imply Assad should step down or that Russia should tone down its support for Assad.

“We remain committed to achieving a political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united inclusive and democratic Syria,” according to a copy of the final communique seen by Reuters.

“We strongly endorse the decision to hold as soon as possible the Geneva conference on Syria,” said the communique.

It made no mention of Assad, whom Western leaders have said in the past said must step down as part of a resolution.

G8 leaders also called on the Syrian authorities and the opposition to commit to destroying all organizations affiliated with Al-Qaida.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his allies want Assad to cede power while Putin, whose rhetoric has become increasingly anti-Western since he was re-elected last year, believes that would be disastrous at a time when no clear transition plan exists.

Russia has been Assad’s most powerful supporter as his forces struggle to crush an uprising in which 93,000 people have been killed since March 2011. He can also count on backing from Iran.

The United States, Turkey, and European and Gulf Arab states support the rebels, who have lost ground to Assad’s troops in recent weeks.

Western powers had tried to hash out a statement with teeth on Syria that all G8 leaders could agree on, though sources indicated that Putin resisted.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, speaking on the summit sidelines, said earlier Russia had refused to accept any mention of Assad’s fate in the communique.

“This would be not just unacceptable for the Russian side, but we are convinced that it would be utterly wrong, harmful and would completely upset the political balance,” Ryabkov said.

Russia and the United States agree the warring sides should be brought together to discuss Syria’s future at a peace conference as soon as July. But its timing was under question and one source said it would be delayed until August.

Putin appeared tense on the first day and has faced a barrage of criticism over his Syria stance. Canada’s Stephen Harper accused him of supporting “thugs” in Damascus. His meeting with Obama was frosty and both men looked uncomfortable.



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