UK Politics

Cameron: UK and Russia 'can overcome Syria differences'

Media captionDavid Cameron: "You can see there are very big differences between our analyses of what happened in Syria and who was to blame"

David Cameron and President Putin can overcome differences on Syria to bring new momentum to efforts to stop the killing in Syria, the PM has said.

Mr Cameron said it was no secret he and the Russian president had disagreements over Syria, but they shared a common aim - to end the conflict.

Both wanted to keep Syria intact and get a transitional government in place, he said.

Mr Putin was at No 10 for talks ahead of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Cameron said they had also discussed the "rules of the game for the world economy", particularly on tax and company ownership; and working together more closely on issues like science and space, trade and investment.

Arming rebels

He said it was "no secret" the two leaders had disagreements over Syria.

Speaking to John Pienaar on BBC Radio 5 live he said President Putin's arming of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime would not stop the West from arming the rebels.

He said Moscow could not veto the West, explaining: "I don't think anyone has a veto, but...we won't get a successful peace conference unless everybody does everything that can to help bring it about".

On Friday, the US announced it would supply some rebels with direct military aid after seeing evidence of chemical weapons use by Assad's regime.

Moscow is unconvinced about the evidence on chemical weapons and has said it will supply President Assad with advanced anti-aircraft missiles.

Mr Putin said Moscow was not breaching any laws by supplying arms to the "legitimate government of Syria".

Meanwhile, Egypt has cut off diplomatic relations with Syria and announced it will close its embassy in Cairo.

The Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi also demanded the withdrawal of the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah - which has been condemned by the Arab League and the UN Human Rights Council for its role in the retaking of the key border town of Qusair from rebel forces earlier this month.

Mr Putin said "blood is on the hands" of both the Syrian government and the rebels.

And in an apparent reference to a video that emerged last month which appeared to show a Syrian rebel eating the heart of a dead soldier, he said the behaviour of some rebels, who "eat the organs" of their enemies, went against the "humanitarian and cultural values" of Europe.

Earlier Mr Cameron told Sky News' Murnaghan programme there were "very dangerous" elements with the Syrian opposition the UK does not approve of but the moderate elements supported a "free" and "pluralistic system".

'Common ground'

Mr Cameron said there was a "very big difference" in the Russian and British view of who was to blame in the conflict. But he added: "We both see a humanitarian crisis."

He said: "What I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognise that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people decide who governs them and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them."

He added: "We will use the opportunity of having G8 leaders together to try and build on this common ground."

President Putin said he did not agree that previous efforts to secure peace talks had been "thwarted".

He said he fully shared Mr Cameron's view the conflict could only "be resolved by political and diplomatic means".

Along with the US, Moscow has been leading efforts to organise peace talks in Geneva next month but the Syrian opposition has not said whether it will attend.

The PM said the UK government had made "no decision" to follow the US's lead on arming the rebels.

But he told BBC Radio 5 live the US evidence of chemical weapon use was "backed up" by information he had received as well. Due to the findings, he said it "is very urgent that we take action and that President Assad knows that he can't just pursue a military solution to this situation."

'Not weapons'

Earlier Mr Cameron told Murnaghan: "I think where we can actually give the greatest assistance to the official proper Syrian opposition, is advice, is training and is technical support" - and not weapons.

His Lib Dem deputy, Nick Clegg, told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme: "We clearly don't think it [arming the rebels] is the right thing to do now, otherwise we would have decided to do it."

Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said the case was "not proven yet" that arming the rebels would make a difference and former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown said it would be "an act of very considerable folly" to do so.

Mr Cameron has been under pressure from his own backbenchers to hold a vote in Parliament on the issue. He told Sky: "I never want to stand in the way of Parliament having a say one way or another... [but] we are not there yet, we have not made that decision."

Two years of civil war in Syria has left an estimated 93,000 people dead.

The G8 summit - a meeting of eight global leaders to address international issues - takes place in Lough Erne, County Fermanagh on Monday and Tuesday.

Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the US and the UK will be represented.

Mr Cameron will also meet President Obama ahead of the summit.

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