G-8 Agrees to Promote Syrian Peace talks
World leaders including the US and Russia declared they are united in wanting a negotiated and peaceful end to the Syrian civil war that will produce a government “under a top leadership that inspires public confidence.” The declaration at the end of the two-day Group of Eight summit sought to narrow the ground between Syria government backer Russia and Western leaders on starting peace talks in Geneva that could end with the ouster of Bashar Assad from power.
It stopped short of demanding Assad’s removal as leader, nor did it advance the possibility of sending U.S., British or French weapons to rebels, an option being kept open by all three G-8 members. Russia refused to back any declaration that made such Assad’s removal from power an explicit goal. And reflecting the profound divisions that remain after two days of talks, the British host, Prime Minister David Cameron, declared in response to reporters’ questions that it was “unthinkable” that Assad could play any role in Syria’s post-talks government.
“He has blood on his hands. He has used chemical weapons,” Cameron said, a position rejected as unproven by the Russians. Russian President Vladimir Putin said arms supplies to the Syrian opposition would destabilize the situation even further. “Any decisions to provide the opposition with weapons based on unconfirmed accusations against Damascus of using chemical weapons will only further destabilize the situation,” Putin said at a news conference.
Significantly, the G-8 declaration said participants in any peace talks must agree to expel al-Qaida-linked fighters from Syria. That measure reflects growing Western unease at the human rights abuses being committed in rebel-held areas, including civilian executions on Muslim extremist grounds.