ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland — President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other G-8 leaders took a united stance Tuesday on seeking a negotiated Syrian peace settlement to forge a “united, inclusive and democratic” government — but couldn’t agree on whether this means President Bashar Assad must go.
Their declaration at the end of the two-day Group of Eight summit sought to narrow the diplomatic chasm between Assad’s key backer, Russia, and Western leaders on starting peace talks in Geneva to end a two-year civil war that has claimed an estimated 93,000 lives.
G-8 leaders also published sweeping goals for tightening the tax rules on globe-trotting corporations that long have exploited loopholes to shift profits into foreign shelters that charge little tax or none. But that initiative, aimed at forcing the Googles and Apples of the world to pay higher taxes, contained only aspirations, no binding commitments.
The Syrian declaration said the country needs a new coalition government with “a top leadership that inspires public confidence.” It made no reference to sending U.S., British or French weapons to rebels, an option being kept open by all three G-8 members, most likely America.
Russia refused to back any declaration that made Assad’s ouster an explicit goal, arguing that it would be impossible to start peace talks with a predetermined outcome.
Reflecting the profound divisions that remain, the British host, Prime Minister David Cameron, declared it was “unthinkable that President Assad can play any part in the future government of his country. He has blood on his hands. He has used chemical weapons.”
Putin — speaking at the same time as Cameron at a different location in a gesture that some diplomats construed as rude — rejected Cameron’s views as unproven.
And referring to last month’s butchery of an off-duty British soldier in London by ax- and knife-wielding Muslim extremists, Putin warned Cameron that the weapons sent to Syria might end up being used to kill people in Europe.
“There are many such criminals in the ranks of the (Syrian) opposition, such as those who committed the brutal murder in London. Do the Europeans want to provide such people with weapons? … We are calling on all our partners to thoroughly think it over again before taking this very dangerous step,” Putin said.