David Cameron is today hoping for a show of unity over Syria from the world’s most powerful nations after a late-night showdown at the G8 summit in the North.
Western nations last night faced down Russian president Vladimir Putin at a summit dinner over his support for the regime of dictator Bashar Assad.
Downing Street welcomed a “very positive” response from the Russian leader, reviving hopes for a peace conference to pave the way for a political transition in the war-torn Middle Eastern state.
While nobody at the summit was in any doubt about the continuing differences between Moscow and the West, sources suggested Mr Putin was ready to sign up to five key principles discussed at last night’s dinner.
The five points include support for a transitional authority that will command the support of all Syria’s communities – effectively ruling out a place for Assad.
Tension over Syria has dominated the annual gathering of world leaders, which comes days after president Barack Obama suggested the US may send weapons to opposition forces.
Mr Putin has set himself firmly against any Western supply of arms, warning that they could end up in the hands of extremists opposed to European values, who “eat the organs” of their enemies. He has also said he is ready to supply Assad with anti-aircraft missiles.
Mr Cameron put Syria top of the agenda at last night’s summit dinner with the aim of restoring momentum towards a proposed peace conference in Geneva.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister regarded the dinner, at the Lough Erne golfing resort near Enniskillen, as “an opportunity for a clarifying moment on Syria”.
He asked fellow leaders – Mr Putin, Mr Obama, German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande, Italian PM Enrico Letta and Japan’s Shinzo Abe – to consider whether the G8 can come together behind a consistent view on:
:: Demanding access for humanitarian aid to reach Syria’s people;
:: Taking on extremists on all sides of the conflict;
:: Condemning the use of chemical weapons as unacceptable;
:: Exploring whether the G8 could play a role in stabilising Syria after any change in regime;
:: Supporting a political transition to a new government executive authority in Damascus which can command the consent of the Syrian people.
The PM is understood to want a clear statement of intent in the final summit communique this afternoon.
British officials last night said he was ready to go ahead with a statement with or without Russian agreement – but signals were that Mr Putin was ready to sign up.
The Russian and American presidents met for face-to-face talks which are thought to have focused on Syria.
Mr Obama acknowledged the pair had “differing perspectives” but had a shared interest in reducing the violence and preventing the use of chemical weapons.
The Russian leader said “our opinions do not coincide” but “all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria and to stop the growth of victims and to solve the situation peacefully”.
US officials later said Mr Obama would offer a new 300 million dollar (£190 million) aid package for refugees inside and outside Syria.
Assad used an interview with a German newspaper to warn that if European countries agreed to arm the rebels trying to oust him “Europe’s backyard becomes a terrorists’ place”.
Mr Cameron also today hopes to secure agreement on action to block the payment of ransoms to terrorist kidnappers, as well as an international initiative to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance by sharing information between tax authorities.
But campaigners raised concerns that any agreement on tax information-sharing may be confined only to the rich world, leaving out the developing countries which miss out on billions in tax revenues because of individuals and companies secreting their wealth in offshore bolt-holes.
Adrian Lovett, Europe executive director at development campaign group One, said: “G8 countries need to tackle the scourge of ’phantom firms’, by agreeing to disclose who really controls companies and trusts, through public registries. This will ensure that such information is available not only to tax and law enforcement authorities but also to ordinary citizens, the media and others who want to follow the money and root out corruption.
“The G8 must also ensure that the system they put in place for sharing tax information involves developing countries from the start.
“By taking these steps, the G8 will not only put its own house in order, but do so in ways that help the fight against extreme poverty. The UK must continue to lead the way and lobby its G8 partners, with no let-up in pace or ambition. G8 leaders must decide whether they want to shape the transparency revolution or resist the tide of history.”