ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland – Going into the Group of Eight summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was seven against one — Russia’s Vladimir Putin — when it came to Syria.
In the end, both sides bent a little, but neither got exactly what they wanted.
The Russians still flat out refuse to acknowledge that the Syrian regime attacked its foes with chemical weapons and remain staunch allies of President Bashar Assad.
The United States, meanwhile, maintains it has proof Assad’s forces carried out such attacks. The rest of the G8 is split over whether the U.S. should arm the Syrian rebels, but generally sides with the American position that Assad must go.
The final G8 statement on Syria sought the middle ground. It condemns any use of chemical weapons without admitting any attacks actually happened.
“We condemn any use of chemical weapons in Syria and call on all parties to the conflict to allow access to the UN investigating team mandated by the UN Secretary General … in order to conduct an objective investigation into reports of use of chemical weapons,” the statement says.
“The UN team should make their report and deliver it to the UN Security Council for their assessment. We are determined that those who may be found responsible for the use of chemical weapons will be held accountable.”
It also calls for some sort of transitional government without explicitly calling for Assad’s ouster.
“We remain committed to achieving a political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria,” the statement says.
The G8 statement says talks aimed at ending the conflict should be held as soon as possible:
“Both sides at the conference must engage seriously and constructively. They should be fully representative of the Syrian people and committed to the implementation of the Geneva communique and to the achievement of stability and reconciliation.”
The deep divisions between Putin and the rest of the G8 were laid bare when the Russian president and Obama openly admitted on the first day of the summit that their two countries do not see eye-to-eye on the deepening crisis in Syria.
“Of course, our opinions do not coincide,” Putin said through a translator on Monday.
“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, including by bringing the parties to the negotiating table in Geneva. We agreed to push the parties to the negotiating table.”
“We do have different perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence, securing chemical weapons and ensuring they are neither used or are they subject to proliferation, and that we want to try to resolve the issue through political means, if possible,” the U.S. president said.
However, both sides seem to recognize the two-year crisis is spiralling dangerously out of control.
Tensions have escalated in the last week after the United States announced it would supply weapons and ammunition to the Syrian opposition after it found proof the regime of President Bashar Assad attacked its foes with chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin.
Russia — one of four G8 members with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council — has been highly critical of the U.S. move to arm the rebels. The Russians have also scoffed at U.S. claims about the use of chemical weapons, saying they’re based on flimsy evidence.
On the eve of the summit, Harper predicted Putin would not give in to pressure from the G8 and drop Russia’s support for Assad.
In doing so, he made it clear that Putin is the outlier of the group.
But I don’t think we should fool ourselves. This is G7 plus one. OK, let’s be blunt. That’s what this is, G7 plus one,” Harper said Sunday.
While the G8 is split over Syria, there were agreements in other areas.
They pledged to stop making ransom payments to terrorist kidnappers and to take action to combat hidden company ownership.
Harper and Obama also chatted for 10-12 minutes Tuesday morning as they walked along a golf cart path at the lakeside Lough Erne resort.