The two leaders of Britain and Russia have met in London to discuss positions on Syria ahead of next week's G8 meeting. Major differences on dealing with the situation became apparent.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was an hour late arriving for his meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Delayed by a nearby demonstration, the Russian leader had to walk in to the official residence through the back door.
At their press conference after the meeting, the different stances on Syria became clear. Russia has been one of the staunchest supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Asaad, providing both military and political support.
"Russia supplies arms to the legitimate government of Syria," Putin said, standing alongside Cameron after their meeting. "We are not breaching any rules or laws and we call on all our partners to act in the same fashion." He said the Syrian issue could "be solved only by diplomatic means."
Putin warned that countries supplying arms to forces fighting against the Syrian regime would have their reputation tarnished after footage emerged last month of one rebel apparently eating the heart of a dead soldier. Russia has said the US accusations of chemical weapons use were unfounded.
For his part, Cameron repeated on Sunday that Britain has not made a decision about whether to arm Syrian rebels. He admitted a divergence of opinion with Russia: "What I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognize 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 said.
"Where there is common ground is that we both see a humanitarian catastrophe, we both see the dangers of extremism," said Cameron. "If we focus on that common ground we can indeed make some progress."
Calls on the G8
Pope Francis urged G8 leaders in a letter to Cameron to bring both sides in the Syria conflict to the negotiating table and establish a ceasefire.
Cameron and Putin are to meet separately with US President Barack Obama on Monday. The leaders of Germany, France, Japan, Italy and Canada will also attend the G8 talks at a luxury golf resort two-hours drive from Belfast in Northern Ireland.
jm/dr (AP, AFP)