Bitter Syria rift gets G8 off to tricky start

 
David Cameron and Vladimir Putin

LOUGH ERNE, NORTHERN IRELAND: People from Downing Street are concerned that disagreements over Syria will overshadow this G8 summit, with its stated agenda of kindling new economic growth by tackling trade, taxes, and transparency.

But is it surprising that this should happen when UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin let rip with a spectacular display of public differences on the issue on Sunday, while US President Barack Obama flew in hot on the heels of announcing that he will arm the opposition to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

The splits or rows perceived by journalists, particularly that breed driven desperate by the perverse mixture of isolation and spin imposed upon at them by the organisers of summits, are often feeble and concocted.

But when the leaders trade accusations about who has blood on their hands, or the eating of enemy livers, as happened in London on Sunday we can be quite sure that this is not invention.

This display of international disunity over Syria is all the more remarkable since less than two months have passed since the US Secretary of State John Kerry, and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov pledged to convene a peace conference, dubbed Geneva II, and to do it hopefully before the end of May.

Nobody is prepared to say publicly that the idea of a peace conference is dead, but one British foreign policy official told me a couple of weeks ago, "in truth the chance for a negotiated settlement was probably lost 18 months ago".

Even so, everyone with an interest in stopping the slaughter in Syria cannot begrudge the diplomats their attempts to make Geneva II happen. Two important things though have happened since that Kerry/Lavrov meeting.

The first was highly visible - the victory of Mr al-Assad's forces, aided by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in the town of Qusair. It has convinced many of the ultras in Damascus that they are winning and that there is no need for serious peace talks, but it has also galvanised a fearsome reaction from the Sunni Umma or community, with declarations of Holy War and calls for volunteers.

While this has been going on something less visible, but no less important has also happened. The US, UK, and France have been trying to get a meaningful delegation together from the Syrian opposition to attend peace talks, and have failed.

Even the moderate National Coalition umbrella - the sort of people UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday described as, "Syrians who want a democratic and peaceful future for their country" - has been rent with splits over whether to sit down with representatives of the Assad government to negotiate a transfer of power.

As for the militants of the Jabhat al-Nusra or the al-Qaeda affiliates who would need to go along with it any deal for it to stick, forget it.

The absence of a credible opposition leadership is not only a serious obstacle to a negotiated solution, but it is also a grim portent about what might happen in the country if the Assad regime imploded. Those who think the situation there is better compared to Somalia than Bosnia (a favourite in Downing Street discussions) feel that this vacuum bodes ill for the future.

With the chances for meaningful peacemaking so remote, both Russia and the US seem to have fallen back on realpolitik in their decisions to arm different sides. Moscow fears the establishment of a fundamentalist Sunni state, Washington a victory for Iran and its Hezbollah proxy.

Other voices at the G8 table, such as Germany and Japan, are all for upping humanitarian assistance but are strongly opposed to sending in weapons. With opinions so divided it is hardly surprising that the issue of Syria could get in the way of discussions about the world economy, but it is regrettable that the public airing of these differences should have given the summit such a bad start.

 
Mark Urban, Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 23.

    Not impossible 'friendly Westerners' gave encouragement to naive 'pro-democratic' protest by Sunnis, hoping for a Syrian Spring to be welcomed by gentle Assad

    Not at all impossible that naive Assad may then have received more 'friendly advice', to come down hard on any hint of 'Chechen' threat

    With 'friends' like 'us', players of The Great Game, who needs enemies?

    Electing havoc, home & abroad

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 22.

    Choc @5
    "blind eye"?
    US support 'naturally' to Syrian rebels (Sunni), & Saudi Arabia etc (Sunni controlled oil-states)
    Iranian (Shia) support 'naturally' to Iraq (Shia majority), & Assad in Syria (non-Sunni control)
    Russia props non-Sunni anti-US Assad in Syria (& Tartus), balance against US interests enhanced by new Iraqi bridge, Iran to tne Med
    Oil the current 'excuse'
    Denying equal partnership

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 21.

    BBC, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Why ask us for our opinions on articles if all you are going to do is hide them if you don't get the answer you want. The BBC is the national public broadcaster, not a sulky teenager.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 20.

    NO to any involvement in Syria, it doesn't matter how many times the BBC keep posting this forum, the public clearly do not support intervention.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 19.

    We are all too aware of our own AND OTHER governments past discretions. We are not going to accept the same lies time and time again. Galileo & FrankSyndey are absolutely right, NOT IN OUR NAME!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 18.

    I think the problem is, a lot of countries threw their lot in with the rebels before they really understood their goals, abilities or support levels.

    Now they are left in a situation where they might be left red-faced in front of a stable Assad Government, and so the only way to avoid International embarrassment is to change the rules.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 17.

    Putin cannot take us seriously, how can he be us when we say this is about democracy and freedom of the people. He must be thinking "ok then what are you doing about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, or do you have other interests there that are enabling you to turn a blind eye to these countries but not Syria?"

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 16.

    Politician need to look back in history, when policy making. America & Great Britain, have repeatedly enacted foreign policies that have failed disastrously, including, but not limited to, the Suez Crisis, the Iran/Iraq War, the Gulf War, which was pre-empted by America helping Kuwait to directional drill into Iraq's oil reserves; legalised International theft. World leaders, READ YOUR HISTORY!!!!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 15.

    The US and UK are clutching at straws, trying to show that the Syrian opposition is a democratic grouping of Syrian people.

    NATO has confirmed that the opposition only has support of around 10% of the population of Syria,
    And German intelligence has confirmed that 95 % of rebels fighters are Islamists from outside Syria.
    It's therefore hard to show that the Syrian opposition is decrible group

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 14.

    Cameron's policy makers need to catch up a bit. The conflict in Syria is now between Sunni and Shia and if he were to arm the rebels, he would essentially be backing Sunni militants. Even if Assad is removed from power there will still be that sectarian conflict for years to come.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 13.

    The Communists may have theoretically disappeared, but the new Mafiosi apparatchiks who rule Russia now still see advantages in destabilising other countries, then offering "assistance" in order to weasel in to advantageous positions in resource rich countries.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 12.

    Re 8-have agreed with this view on every forum.
    It is a great pity that Putin is such a charmer(NOT)and still bemoans the loss of The Cold War.In present World we could really do with a Russian leader who favours harmony and co-operation(and even integration)with The West.In med/long term it would be in all our interests to see USA+EU+Russia pulling together against China.No chance with Putin !!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 11.

    Trace the money flows and you will find who is fanning the flames.

    It takes two to argue, but it usually takes a third hidden party to cause a conflict by stirring the pot.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 10.

    The host country can really empathise with the Syrian position, where effectively two branches of the same religion keep warring with each other. It needs people to change their attitudes. Mandela changed from terrorist to respected statesman, and even Mcguinness came round to the idea that peace works.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    #4 WoelsMe...I agree with you on that...US & Russian arms dealers want to make money. Doesn't mean we like it! But the other countries need to stay out of it. We've had enough war! It's time to let the world see some peace for a change. Giving meds, food, etc to refugees is ok but escalating the civil war with arms won't end it but make it worse. I sometimes dislike my gov a great deal...US :(

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 8.

    Every forum I've read on this matter shows the public are overwhelmingly against arming terrorists and interfering in the affairs of Syria.

    The public are increasingly aware that the Syrian 'uprising' has been orchestrated by foreign powers from the start. Not in our name.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 7.

    Syria is none of our business, it is none of Russia's and Putin's business, and it is none of America's business. The conflict is too complected and intricate for any of the G8 to enter it without making it worse, so the ONLY thing that should be discussed is how best to help the Syrian people caught in the middle, because whether Assad or the rebels win, the people lose.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 6.

    Syria is tearing itself apart. How does it help them if the rest of the world is arguing about it, too?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 5.

    How can we expect any movement towards peace when countries from the Arabian Peninsula continue to fan the flames of escalating sectarian violence. We can't say we're not involved or to blame, when we prop up these Wahabi regimes with wealth, whilst turning a blind eye to their appalling human rights and religious agenda.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 4.

    I agree with you nccure65, however, it sort of is an economic issue: the governments of both G8 principals (Russia and US) each have strong lobbies from their respective arms manufacturers, and both make a great deal of money from the sale of weapons systems. Unfortunately.

 

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