Britain and Russia on Friday sought to forge a joint approach to the crisis in Syria, as US Secretary of State John Kerry said there was “strong evidence” Damascus had used chemical weapons against rebels.
British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Russian President Vladimir Putin at his Black Sea vacation home to talk strategy, days after top US and Russian diplomats agreed to work together on a solution to the bloody conflict.
However, in Warsaw, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov confirmed that Moscow was continuing to fulfill contracts by delivering military hardware to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in defiance of calls for a freeze.
The West and Russia have been repeatedly at odds over the Syria conflict, with the US and Europe accusing Moscow of seeking to prop up al-Assad and selling him arms.
In cordial comments amid the tropical shrubbery of the garden at his Black Sea residence, Putin said he and Cameron had discussed possible options and joint measures for finding peace in Syria, after more than two years of war.
However there was no sign of an immediate breakthrough, despite the warm tone that was a contrast to the tensions that have bedeviled relations between London and Moscow for years.
“At the initiative of the prime minister, we spoke about the possible options for a positive development of the situation and about practical steps in this regard,” Putin said after the talks, according to a Kremlin transcript.
“We have a joint interest in a swift halt to the violence and the creation of the process for a peaceful solution that keeps Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Putin said.
Cameron said it was “no secret” the two sides had different positions on the conflict, but said they shared an ultimate aim of halting the violence, allowing the Syrian people to elect a government and preventing a growth in extremism.
Cameron flew to Putin’s palm-dotted residence before the British prime minister’s planned meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House tomorrow.
The meeting also allowed Russia and Britain to coordinate positions ahead of the next G8 summit, which Cameron is hosting in Northern Ireland on June 17 and June 18.
The war in Syria has cost an estimated 70,000 lives and displaced millions of people, including hundreds of thousands who have fled to neighboring countries.
The talks with Putin came amid concerns that Russia may be preparing to hand over to Syria sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, which would significantly strengthen its defenses and complicate any foreign intervention.
Kerry warned that any such sale would be “potentially destabilizing” for the region.
Lavrov, on a visit to Warsaw on Friday, defiantly refused to rule out delivering weapons to Syria by completing the implementation of existing contracts.
“Russia is not planning to sell — Russia has sold and signed contracts a long time ago, and is completing supplies of the equipment, which is anti-aircraft systems, according to the already signed contracts,” he told reporters.
However, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Guido Westerwelle, speaking at the same news conference, insisted that “international arms deliveries to Syria must end.”