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Russian President Putin at G8 / AFP
Russian President Putin at G8 / AFP

Putin derails G8 efforts to oust Syria`s President Bashar al-Assad

( DP-News - Agencies)

Northern Ireland- Russia's Vladimir Putin derailed Barack Obama's efforts to win backing for the downfall of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad at a G8 summit on Tuesday, warning the West that arms supplied to the rebels could be used for attacks on European soil.



The G8 summit concluded Tuesday in brilliant sunshine at the Lough Erne Resort, about two hours outside Belfast, with a lengthy statement on the Syrian conflict signed by all eight leaders. But there was no time frame for a conference and no mention of an ouster of President al-Assad, a seeming diplomatic victory for Russian President Putin.




Despite assertions by the United States, France and Britain that the Syrian leader used SARIN gas on his people, the statement only called on the United Nations to investigate the use of chemical weapons in that country. It also called for a peace conference in Geneva – an idea floated last month by the U.S. and Russia – on the establishment of a “transitional governing body.”



Press reports said that Putin struck a defiant tone: he hinted that Obama had tried to isolate Russia, that other leaders were divided, and that plans to send arms to Syrian rebels could lead to murders such as that of a British soldier on a busy London street last month.


"British people have lately witnessed a tragedy, and we lived through it together, when right in the streets of London a British army serviceman was brutally murdered outside his barracks," Putin said.
"Is it these people that the Europeans want to supply arms? What happens next with those weapons? Who will control in which hands they end up? They could possibly (end up) in Europe."



Ahead of the summit, Canadian PM Harper had asserted Russia’s isolation over Syria, saying “This is G7, plus one.”

But Putin rejected that notion. “I never felt lonely and Russia never was on its own in making a statement in regard to Syria,” he told reporters Tuesday, dismissing suggestions he had been isolated at the summit as Syria’s lone backer within the G8.



“Not all G8 members take the view that chemical weapons were in fact used by the Syrian army. Some actually agree with us that there is no proof.” Putin said.

He added that Russia has always believed in a negotiated solution to the conflict and he warned the West about arming rebels: Opposition forces include some of the same people who murdered a British soldier in the streets of London last month, Putin said. “If we equip these people, if we arm them, what is going to control and verify who is going to have these weapons?” he asked.



After two days of intense talks that fell far short of what Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron had been hoping for, Putin fumed against Western moves to supply weapons to rebels while defending his own supplies of arms for Syria`s President al-Assad.
"We are supplying weapons under legal contracts to the legal government. That is the government of President Assad. And if we are going to sign such contracts, we are going to deliver," the Russian president said.

Putin, isolated at the summit, repeatedly clashed with other leaders over the fate of Assad and resisted pressure to agree to anything that would imply Assad should step down. In the end, a G8 communique did not even mention Assad's name.



Elsewhere, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Kuwait, said holding the planned peace conference should not imply any capitulation on the part of the Syrian regime.

"We are categorically against … assertions that the conference should be some kind of public act of capitulation by the government delegation followed by a handing over of power to the opposition."



He said it was essential that the result of the conference should be a transitional government containing members of opposition groups and representatives of the current regime. Britain, the US and France have always said members of the Assad regime had to attend the talks, alongside the divided Syrian National Council.

Lavrov hit out at the west for undermining the realization of the conference by giving material support to the rebels and beginning to call for a no-fly zone over Syria.



Russia's position is that only Syrians can decide Assad's fate. The West considers that to be cover for allowing him to stay in power. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, speaking on the sidelines, said any debate about Assad's role in the resolution of the conflict was unthinkable.

"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.



The summit in a secluded golf resort in Northern Ireland ended with G8 leaders calling for peace talks to be held as soon as possible to resolve the Syrian war. This has broadly been their position for months.



No date was mentioned for a peace conference called by Moscow and Washington, which was supposed to take place next month but now appears to be on hold, after the United States announced last week that it would arm the rebels.



Sources said it was now unlikely that a peace conference would take place in July, since the Russian president could not agree with the other G8 leaders on the terms of a post-Assad cabinet. The Russians insist that both sides attending any peace conference should be able to choose their own delegations.

A source at the summit said the peace conference would now be put off at least until August.



Russia has been President Bashar al-Assad's most powerful supporter shielding the Syrian leader from Western action as his forces struggle to crush an uprising in which more than 90,000 people have been killed since March 2011 and which is now drawing in neighboring countries.



In turn, Syria's regime is one of Moscow's last allies in the Middle East. Its influence has declined since the collapse of the Soviet Union but the Russian navy still has a base at the Mediterranean port of Tartous.

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