Cameron meets Putin in new push to end Syria war
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday discussed joint options for ending the crisis in Syria amid a new diplomatic push to resolve the two-year conflict.
Cameron's rare call on Putin at his summer vacation residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi came three days after top US and Russian diplomats agreed to make a joint effort in search of a solution.
The West and Russia have been repeatedly at odds over the Syria conflict, with the United States and Europe accusing Moscow of seeking to prop up President Bashar al-Assad and supplying it with military hardware.
Amid signs of growing international cooperation on ending the conflict, Putin said the two leaders discussed possible options and joint measures for finding peace. However there was no sign of an immediate breakthrough.
"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 regards," Putin said after the talks in comments carried by Russian news agencies.
"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," said Putin.
Cameron for his part said Russia, Britain and the United States should facilitate the creation of a transitional government and expressed support for a new push by Moscow and Washington to try to end the bloodshed in Syria.
He said it was "no secret" that Russia and Britain had different positions on the Syria conflict but said they shared an ultimate aim of halting the conflict, 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 premier's planned meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday.
The meeting also allowed Russia and Britain to coordinate positions ahead of the next Group of Eight summit which Cameron is hosting at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland on June 17-18.
The war in Syria has cost an estimated 70,000 lives and displaced millions of people, including hundreds of thousands who have fled to neighbouring countries.
The talks with Putin came amid concerns that Russia may be preparing to sell Syria sophisticated surface-to-air missiles which will significantly strengthen its defences and complicate any foreign intervention.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that any such sale would be "potentially destabilising" for the region.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on a visit to Warsaw on Friday, refused to rule out supplies of weapons to Syria according to 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 in Warsaw.
But German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, speaking at the same news conference, insisted that "international arms deliveries to Syria must end."
Earlier this week, Lavrov and Kerry in a rare joint initiative over the conflict offered to hold an international conference in search of peace in Syria.
UN-Arab League envoy on the Syria crisis Lakhdar Brahimi hailed the initiative which he said had convinced him to stay on in his job which many see as a hopeless mission.
The peace conference proposed by Lavrov and Kerry will aim to build on the unimplemented Geneva accord agreed by world powers last June. The deal set out a path toward a transitional government without spelling out what Assad's fate should be.
Cameron's trip to Putin's Sochi residence, which is usually reserved for meetings with close allies and friends, is highly unusual, in particular for a British leader.
It comes despite years of tensions following the polonium poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
Cameron visited Moscow for talks with Putin's younger predecessor Dmitry Medvedev in 2011 in an effort to put his country's rocky relations with Russia on a more pragmatic footing but ties remain strained.
© 2013 AFP