David Cameron insisted he had “learnt the lessons of Iraq” as world leaders at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland tonight set out an agreed blueprint for the future of Syria.
But the Prime Minister was again warned not to consider arming the Syrian rebels by Vladimir Putin, who compared them to the killers of Drummer Lee Rigby.
Mr Cameron and Barack Obama persuaded Mr Putin to agree plans for a transitional government which could eventually replace the Assad regime, following intensive private discussions over dinner on Monday night.
The Prime Minister appealed directly to supporters of the Syrian dictator to turn against him, promising that they could have a role in a future Syrian government. They should “know in their hearts” that the Assad regime was doomed, he said.
The Prime Minister heralded the deal agreed on the final day of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland as a “strong statement” which will pave the way for a Syrian peace conference.
It was agreed with Mr Putin unexpectedly after months of the Russian president propping up the Assad regime. Although today’s statement does not call for Assad to step aside, it does agree to work on a “transitional governing body … formed by mutual consent” which British sources said amounted to a tacit acknowledgement that the dictator should be replaced. Mr Cameron said it was “unthinkable that President Assad can play any part in the future of his country”, adding: “He has blood on his hands.”
But within hours of the deal being signed, Mr Putin again warned other G8 leaders against arming the Syrian rebels.
“Recently the British people suffered a huge loss,” the Russian President said, referring to Drummer Rigby’s killing.
“It was a tragedy next to his barracks on the streets of London. A violent assassination, a very brutal killing of a British serviceman.
“Clearly the [Syrian] opposition is not composed all of this but many of them are exactly the same as the ones who perpetrated the killing in London.” He asked who would verify where weapons given to the rebels ended up.
The centrepiece of the G8 deal was an agreement to keep all Syrian public services, including the military, “restored or preserved” during any transition of power. In Iraq, hundreds of thousands of supporters of Saddam Hussein, mainly Sunnis, were barred from working for the new regime, stoking tension.
The Prime Minister also insisted that no decision had been taken on arming the rebels. Any decision, which is opposed by dozens of Conservative MPs, is now likely to be delayed until after a Syrian peace conference in August.
Source: The Telegraph