After day one of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are still divided on how to stem the bloodshed in Syria, though both leaders reiterated their commitment to ending the violence and bringing about negotiations.
“Of course our opinions do not coincide, but all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria, to stop the growth of victims and to solve the situation peacefully including by bringing the parties to the negotiations table in Geneva. We agreed to push the parties to the negotiations table,” Putin said Monday after a bilateral meeting with Obama, the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders in a year.
“With respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem but we share an interest in reducing the violence, securing chemical weapons and ensuring they’re neither used nor are they subject to proliferation. And we want to try to resolve the issues through a political means, if possible, and so we will instruct our teams to continue to work on the potential to work on a Geneva follow-up to the first meeting,” Obama said.
The two world leaders met Monday, just four days after President Obama concluded publicly that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against his people. In response, Obama announced that the U.S. would arm the rebel forces with automatic weapons, light mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, in the U.S.’s most significant intervention in Syria’s more than two-year-old civil war.
Great Britain and France, among the eight nations convening in this week’s summit, had previously confirmed the use of chemical weapons and petitioned the European Union to lift an arms embargo on Syria’s rebel factions in late May. British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to continue to support and assist the rebels, but stopped short of committing to arms in a Friday statement.
He said Monday that there was “a big difference” between the western nations and Russia on how to resolve the Syria conflict. As Assad’s most powerful ally, Russia is alone among the G8 in its support of the regime. Assad gained a strategic advantage in recent weeks by securing key strongholds with the aid of Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters and arms sent from Russia.
Putin criticized the U.S. decision to arm the rebel forces Sunday in comments to reporters, citing a video supposedly showing a rebel fighter eating the heart of a dead soldier. “Do you want to support these people? Do you want to supply arms to these people?” Putin asked, characterizing the rebels as those “who kill their enemies and eat their organs.”
The United Nations released findings last week showing upwards of 93,000 people have been killed in the 28 months since fighting began in Syria, with a large number of deaths thought to have gone unreported.