Western leaders criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin for supporting Syria’s Bashar Al Assad in his battle to crush a two-year-old uprising, setting the stage for what could be a difficult meeting of world leaders over Monday and Tuesday.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who chairs the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, acknowledged there was “a big difference” between the positions of Russia and the West on Syria. Moscow said it would not permit no-fly zones to be imposed over Syria.
US President Barack Obama will meet Putin later today and, in what could be a frosty encounter, will try to convince the Kremlin chief to bring Assad to the negotiating table. Putin has warned the West it risks sowing turmoil across the Middle East by arming the Syrian rebels.
Other Western leaders criticised Russia, Assad’s only big-power ally, for delivering arms to Assad while the rebels - whom Putin described on Sunday as cannibals who ate their enemies’ intestines - perished.
“How can we allow that Russia continue to deliver arms to the Bashar Al Assad regime when the opposition receives very few and is being massacred?” French President Francois Hollande said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Putin was supporting Assad’s “thugs”.
“I don’t think we should fool ourselves. We, the G7 + 1, that’s what this is, we in the West have a very different perspective on this situation,” Harper said.
Stung by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s recent victories for Assad’s forces in the civil war, the United States said last week it would step up military aid to the rebels including automatic weapons, light mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
The European Union has also dropped its arms embargo on Syria, allowing France and Britain to arm the rebels, though Cameron expressed concern about some of Assad’s foes.
“Let’s be clear - I am as worried as anybody else about elements of the Syrian opposition, who are extremists, who support terrorism and who are a great danger to our world,” Cameron said.
Obama and Putin are due to meet at about 6.30pm local time (0530 GMT) at the Lough Erne golf resort. Security was tight and the venue was surrounded by a high steel fence, though Cameron was keen to showcase the relative peace in Northern Ireland as it tries to attract investment after decades of trouble.
In a speech in Belfast, Obama urged young people in Northern Ireland to finish making “permanent peace” and set an example to other areas of the world stricken by conflict.
Cameron could also face some awkward questions at the G8 table after a Guardian newspaper report that Britain spied on officials taking part in two Group of 20 meetings in 2009.
The leaders of the United States, Japan, Canada, Russia, Germany, France, Britain and Italy - representing just over half of the $71.7 trillion global economy - will also discuss global economy and trade.
The leaders of the EU and United States are due to announce the start of formal negotiations on a free trade deal that could be worth more than $100 billion a year to each economy.
“We expect the negotiations to start as soon as possible, most likely July,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders will probably discuss the role of central banks and monetary policy