British Prime Minister David Cameron has begun a trip to Washington, fresh from a visit to Moscow, by describing Russia as “keen” on a peace conference for war-torn Syria.
British premier David Cameron emerged from talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday saying Russia also shared “real political will” and “common ground” for an international conference on Syria.
“There is no more urgent international task than this,” said Cameron, referring to the loss of more than 80,000 lives in Syria over the past two years and his talks last Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Putin’s Black Sea summer retreat.
“We welcome President Putin’s agreement to join an effort to achieve a political solution,” Cameron said, adding that “the challenges remain formidable.”
“Syria’s history is being written in the blood of her people, and it is happening on our watch,” Cameron told Monday’s White House press conference with Obama.
Speaking earlier during his flight to Washington, Cameron praised US Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Moscow earlier last week, for making a “real breakthrough” during his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Putin toward a US-Russian organized Syrian conference.
Cameron added that President Putin now appeared “keen to move from generalities” of having such a conference to “talking through the specifics of how we can make [this] work.”
Russia and the West have long been deeply divided over the war in Syria, with Moscow maintaining that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be involved in talks. In contrast, Syria’s opposition and the West want al-Assad out.
Obama, speaking at Monday’s subsequent press conference, said he and Cameron had agreed to “increase the pressure” on al-Assad, with his departure the goal.
“We’re going to continue our efforts to increase pressure on the Assad regime, to provide humanitarian aid […] to strengthen the moderate opposition and to prepare for a democratic Syria without Bashar al-Assad,” Obama said.
Cameron, who has argued for a “stronger” aid to Syrian rebels, said Britain would double its non-lethal support to Syrian opposition forces in the coming year.
Obama, referring to allegations of recent chemical weapons use in the Syrian conflict, said that the facts still had to be established.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition has welcomed the US-Russian bid, it has not yet said if it will attend any new conference in the wake of abortive talks launched in Geneva last year.
The violence spilled over into Turkey on Saturday when twin car bombings in the border town of Reyhanli claimed 46 lives. The Syrian government denied Turkish allegations that it was behind the bombings.
Cameron, who will host a Group of 8 meeting of powerful industrialized nations in Northern Ireland next month, told Monday’s press conference at the White House that talks on a proposed US-EU free trade area could also be launched at the G-8 gathering.
“There is a real chance” that the process could be launched by the June 17-18 meeting, said ‘Cameron. “So the next five weeks are crucial.”
He said the talks should cover all sectors, drawing a contrast with France, which last month threatened to block the proposed free trade talks unless cultural sectors, such as television and radio, were excluded from any agreement.
“That means everything on the table, even the difficult issues, and no exceptions,” Cameron said.
ipj/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)