Syria: Putin Backs Assad, Berates West Over Proposal to Arm Rebels

la-fg-wn-putin-syria-assad-20121220-002A diplomatic breakthrough on the Syrian civil war at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland appeared unlikely when the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, chastised the West for considering arming Syrian rebels who he said ate human organs.

He added that Russia, by contrast, was arming the legitimate government of Syria.

Speaking after a difficult meeting with Putin in Downing Street, British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed both men were in agreement on the need to end the human catastrophe of the civil war. But there was little to suggest the two men made progress on how to convene a fresh Syrian peace conference in Geneva, let alone who should attend, or its agenda.

In icy exchanges at a press conference, Putin said: “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.”

Putin’s remarks will find an echo on the Conservative benches in the U.K., where there is strong resistance to arming the Syrian opposition. Cameron has argued that it is possible to arm the pluralist democratic elements of the opposition, and he too wants to drive al-Qaida from Syria.

The talks with Putin followed a decision by President Barack Obama’s administration to arm rebels who are trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad after the U.S. said it had obtained proof that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. Some of the proof was provided by British scientists at Porton Down, and Cameron has now accused Assad of committing war crimes.

Cameron admitted the Russians and the U.K. held different points of view, but said the two countries would put aside their differences and focus on the “common ground” – organizing peace talks between the parties in Geneva. Putin said he fully shared Cameron’s view that the civil war could be ended “only by political and diplomatic means”.

Cameron added: “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 G8 … is to put aside some of these differences.”

The Russian leader, who arrived an hour late for the talks, said he wanted to help broker a peace deal for Syria, and he hoped the G8 summit in Northern Ireland could advance that process.

Putin insisted his government was “not breaching any rules” in supplying weapons to Assad’s “legitimate government” and called on partner G8 countries to respect the same rules.

Read the rest of this article on the Guardian

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