June 18, 2013
Special for USA TODAY
With additional reporting by Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri from Amman, Jordan. The original story published in USA Today is here.
BERLIN: Russia’s refusal to back a plan by leaders attending the G-8 summit to end the violence in Syria may have doomed any hope of a joint proposal on the two-year civil war ion which more than 90,000 civilians have died.
“The Russian position, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t changed a huge amount in that while any transitional government might not necessarily include Assad, Assad is a factor that has to be taken into consideration,” said David Hartwell, a Middle East security analyst at IHS in London.
“While the U.S. and European position is that Assad must go and that he cannot be part of any transitional agreement,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged from a meeting on Monday with President Obama at the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland and said his position on Syria did “not coincide” with Obama’s.
On Tuesday, G-8 members said they had reached a joint position for a way forward for Syria and for proposed peace talks. A statement due to be released later today will not mention whether Assad would have to step down due to objections from Russia, the Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters Tuesday.
“If it’s a peace conference, each side should be free to choose who they send,” said Hartwell. “So if the Syrian government chooses to send Assad, then as far as the Russians are concerned they have no problem with that. That’s effectively a reiteration of the Russian position.”
The Syrian rebels have said they will not attend a peace conference with members of the Assad regime. The Free Syrian Army and councils representing the rebels in Berlin and Turkey want the West to back them militarily so they can topple Assad, which is the stated police of the White House.
Despite not being on the official agenda for the G-8 summit taking place between leaders in Northern Ireland, the worsening conflict in Syrian has dominated the two-day conference and highlighted widening divisions between Western leaders and Russia.
Russia has been backing Assad’s regime with arms and support. The United States announced last week it would provide military assistance to the opposition rebels following evidence that Assad used chemicals weapons against civilians.
Obama and Putin did little to hide their difference of opinion on conflict at a frosty press conference last night.
“We do have different perspectives on the problem,” Obama told reporters following a two-hour meeting on the sidelines of the summit.
Putin has held separate meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande. Both European leaders have backed the U.S decision to aid the rebels and have previously indicated that they might arm vetted Syrian rebels. But neither has so far moved to join Obama in arming the opposition.
Activists said they did not anticipate any breakthroughs to come out of the talks.
“I’m not anticipating anything specific from the meeting, but it seems that the Americans want to work on the balance of power in Syria in terms of armaments,” said political writer Mwafaq Zareiq. “There won’t be a winner or a loser, so we’ll have to wait for the next meeting.”
As well as Syria, leaders have also tackled the issues of taxes and transparency for global companies. Cameron has been pushing for reforms focused at tax avoidance since the beginning of his country’s European Union presidency and said they would be at the heart of his G-8 agenda.
During the first round of leaders’ talks yesterday, the EU and the U.S. agreed to launch the first round of negotiations on a free trade deal for July 8 that could be worth billions of dollars to the U.S. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) aims to eliminate trade tariffs, strengthen investment, boost both economies and promote job growth.
Contributing: Abdulrahman al-Masri from Amman, Jordan