LONDON – The leaders of Britain and Russia said Sunday they're hopeful that Syria's warring factions can hammer out their differences at upcoming peace talks tentatively planned for next month in Geneva.
Speaking at British Prime Minister's David Cameron's Downing Street office, Russian President Vladimir Putin said both nations are still pressing for talks between representatives of Syrian ruler Bashar Assad and the disparate rebel movement that seeks to drive him from power.
Asked whether the proposed introduction of a "no fly zone" over parts of Syria or moves by Western powers to funnel weapons to Syria's rebels were ruining the talks, Putin said no.
"I don't think that the idea of the conference is ruined and thwarted," he said through a translator. "I fully share Mr. prime minister's view that possibly this (the conference) is one of the most appropriate means of resolving the Syrian issue. The issue can be resolved only by political and diplomatic means."
Last week, the White House announced the Obama administration has agreed, after months of hesitation, to start supplying the rebels with upgraded military aid. Russia and European powers, including Britain and France, are at loggerheads over the issue of supplying arms to the different sides of the Syrian conflict, with Russia sending weapons to Assad's military, while reacting angrily to any move on the part of Western nations to do the same to his opponents.
Cameron acknowledged that Russia and Britain are in opposition but told journalists that there is common ground.
"It is no secret that President Putin and I have had our disagreements on some of these issues but 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 this conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian choose who governs them, and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them."
Putin was in London ahead of the G8 summit of world leaders in Northern Ireland, which begins next week.