Russia, West Face Off on Syria at G-8 Summit

By Tara MacIsaac, Epoch Times
June 17, 2013 Updated: June 18, 2013

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to make at least four demands at the G-8 Summit concerning Syria peace talks, some of which could be major roadblocks.

Putin will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday, the first day of the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit in Northern Ireland, to discuss conditions for Syrian peace talks to take place in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to strategic analysis publication Debka, Putin will likely make four demands.

First, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remain the country’s leader. The Syrian opposition, supported by a Western coalition, has adamantly refused to accept Assad’s continued reign and its call for his resignation has been its primary focus.

Second, that Iran be included in the talks. Newly-elected Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani has pledged a path of moderation, but it remains to be seen what course his relations with the West will take.

Third, that the United Nations convene the meeting. If the United Nations convenes the meeting, it could prevent the Western allies from acting outside of a U.N. Security Council mandate as the United States and NATO did to overthrow the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, explains Debka.

And fourth, that the various Syrian opposition groups have separate representatives at the meeting, instead of a single representative for a united opposition.

Divisions among Syrian opposition groups have posed difficulties for the United States and other Western nations supporting the opposition. The United States has focused its support on the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Supreme Military Council in Syria (SMC).

The Obama administration announced last week that it is now certain Assad has crossed the red line—his forces have used chemical weapons—prompting the United States to provide arms to the rebels. 

The United States remains unenthusiastic in its shipment of arms, however, currently opting for lighter arms Debka says will not pose a real threat to Assad’s military.

U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said in a press conference call transcribed on the White House website that a political solution remains the first priority—and only true possibility—for a peaceful resolution.

“In the absence of a political settlement, you’re going to have a conflict within Syria—for all intents and purposes, a civil war within Syria that has foreign involvement from groups like Hezbollah and Iran,” he said. “You’re going to have that conflict continue until somebody prevails in that conflict. And by definition, that’s going to mean more loss of life, more suffering, more refugees in the region.”

Rhodes said intelligence shows 100–150 people have died from detected chemical weapon attacks in Syria perpetrated by the Assad regime.

“I’d also note that we believe that the Assad regime maintains control of chemical weapons within Syria, and we have not seen any reliable reporting or corroborated reporting indicating that the opposition has acquired or used chemical weapons,” he said.

Putin harshly criticized what he called the opposition’s brutality, however. 

In a press conference preceding the G-8 Summit, Putin criticized the West for supporting cannibal rebels, according to The Guardian: “You will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras. Are these the people you want to support? Is it them who you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to humanitarian values that have been preached in Europe for hundreds of years.”

According to The Guardian, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron later said after meeting with Putin: “We both see the humanitarian catastrophe. We both see the dangers of instability and extremism. We both want to see a peace process and a transition. The challenge for the G-8 … is to put aside some of these differences.”

French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister criticized Russia’s stance, according to Reuters.

Hollande asked: “How can we allow that Russia continues to deliver arms to the Bashar al-Assad regime when the opposition receives very few and is being massacred?”

Harper said: “I don’t think we should fool ourselves. We, the G-7 plus one, that’s what this is, we in the West have a very different perspective on this situation.”