G8 agrees Syria stance despite differences

Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, David Cameron and Barack Obama at the G8 summit. Picture: Getty
Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, David Cameron and Barack Obama at the G8 summit. Picture: Getty
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LEADERS of the G8 group of world powers agreed to paper over their differences yesterday to reach a joint position on Syria that could pave the way for new peace talks in Geneva.

The statement made at the Northern Ireland summit had no mention of president Bashar al-Assad’s future, a concession to his close ally Russia, saying only that a transitional government must be formed by “mutual consent”.

The statement, released at the end of the two-day Lough Erne summit, also makes clear Syria’s military and security forces would be allowed to remain intact after a transition of power.

This was seen as a signal to Mr Assad’s senior officers that if they oust him, they may have a future in a democratic Syria.

Syria has dominated the G8 gathering, which took place in the wake of president Barack Obama’s statement that the US was ready to arm the rebels ­seeking to topple Mr Assad, ­despite opposition from Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin, however, has warned that weapons sent to Syrian rebels may end up in the hands of the kind of extremists who killed Drummer Lee Rigby.

The Russian president said many elements of the forces opposed to Bashar Assad’s regime were “exactly the same” as those behind the brutal murder of the soldier on the streets of London.

However, in a discussion on Monday night, attended by all eight leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Putin agreed to detailed language on Syria’s future governance, but refused to endorse anything undermining Mr Assad.

The chief communiqué states that G8 nations – the UK, US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia, eight of the world’s 11 richest – were ­“committed to achieving a ­political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria”.

It endorses plans to restart peace talks in Geneva “as soon as possible” and says they should begin with both sides agreeing on “a transitional governing body with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent”.Crucially, the document said that Syria’s public services must be “preserved or restored” under future arrangements, adding: “This includes the military forces and security services”. The G8 leaders also said they will make almost $1.5 billion (£9.6bn) available in additional funding for humanitarian operations in Syria and its neighbours.

They said they were “deeply concerned by the rising threat from terrorism and extremism in Syria” and by the conflict’s ­increasingly sectarian nature.

They called on the regime and rebels to “destroy and expel from Syria all organisations and individuals affiliated to al-Qaeda and any other non-state actors linked to terrorism”. The communiqué condemned any use of chemical weapons in Syria, but was silent on US and UK claims there is evidence Mr Assad has already used the nerve gas, sarin.

Later, Prime Minister David Cameron said Mr Assad had “blood on his hands” and ­insisted: “I think it is unthinkable that president Assad can play any part in the future ­government of his country.”

Mr Cameron added: “It’s no secret that there were very different views around the G8 table, but we all share a vital interest in bringing this conflict to an end.”

Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “Sadly, today’s statement suggests the Prime Minister’s strategy for delivering a breakthrough on Syria at this G8 summit has failed.”

‘We won’t be held to ransom’ declare leaders after £45m paid in three years

G8 LEADERS agreed to “stamp out” ransom payments to terrorists, David Cameron has said.

The Prime Minister claimed success in his push to persuade other world leaders to act to cut off an important funding stream for extremists.

“Another £G8UK result: leaders agree to stamp out ransom payments to terrorists, calling on companies to follow lead,” Mr Cameron announced on his official Number 10 Twitter feed.

Up to £45 million is estimated to have been paid to secure the release of western captives in the past three years alone – an average of £1.59m for each victim.

Much of that is believed to have ended up in the coffers of terror groups including al-Qaeda and its affiliates and the Taleban.

The UK outlaws such payments but other countries – including some within the G8 group of leading industrialised nations – continue to meet the demands to the frustration of non-payers.

In the past, France, Italy and Japan have reportedly made payments to secure the release of their nationals but officials have been unwilling to specify any other countries which continue to do so. The other G8 nations are: America, Russia, Germany and Canada.

Mr Cameron’s spokesman said a “very strong” declaration was expected on ending ransom payments to terrorists.

“It will be around the G8 governments not paying ransoms to terrorist organisations and a commitment to work with businesses and other groups in each country, with the objective of suffocating terrorist sources of financing,” he said.

“All G8 countries have been affected by terrorism and terror-related incidents over the last 12 months. Sending this very clear message is important.”