Putin, Cameron grapple over Syria before Olympic judo

2nd August 2012, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Vladimir Putin and British premier David Cameron failed to hide their differences on the Syrian crisis on Thursday before the two leaders watched the Olympic judo together.

On his first visit to Britain for seven years, Putin pledged to work with Cameron to bring the bloody 17-month conflict to an end.

But after 45 minutes of talks at his Downing Street residence, Cameron acknowledged there was still a gulf between the two countries' stances on Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"There have been some differences in the positions that we've taken over the Syrian conflict," Cameron told reporters.

"We both want to see an end to that conflict and a stable Syria, and will continue to discuss with our foreign ministers how we can take this forward," he added.

Britain has been strongly critical of Russia's action to block UN action on the Syrian conflict, which human rights monitors say has killed 20,000 people.

Russia and China have jointly blocked three UN Security Council resolutions that would have imposed sanctions on Assad's government for its crackdown on the opposition, and have refused to join international calls for his departure.

Putin made no direct reference to Russia's continuing support for Assad, but said there were some areas where Moscow and London "see eye-to-eye".

"We agreed to continue working to find a viable solution," he said.

Turning to the Olympics, Putin heaped praised on London's opening ceremony, describing it as "unforgettable".

"It was quite a spectacle. It was a wonderful holiday, a wonderful feast presented by you to mankind," he said.

The two leaders headed in separate cars after the talks to the ExCeL Centre in east London, a giant conference centre where the judo competition is being held.

"I look forward to taking the president to the judo at the Olympic Park, but I note that we will be spectators and not participants," Cameron joked before they left.

Putin is a black belt in the martial art, and has often been filmed in Russia training with top-class judokas as part of his image as a sportsman and lover of rugged pursuits.

The leaders sat together at the arena, where Putin was supporting Russia's Tagir Khaibulaev in his semi-final against Germany's Dimitri Peters in the under 100kg category.

Putin did most of the talking and Cameron, who watched the Olympic handball with French President Francois Hollande earlier this week, nodded as they spoke through a translator.

It was Putin's first visit to Britain since the G8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2005, a year before relations between Russia and Britain were plunged into deep freeze after Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko was killed by radiation poisoning in London.

Cameron visited Moscow last year in a bid to break the ice and he and Putin's predecessor Dmitry Medvedev -- now Russia's prime minister -- vowed to heal relations.

The British premier also met with Putin on that occasion in the first high-level contact between the Russian and any British minister or diplomat since 2007, but the two countries remain far apart on the Litvinenko case.

Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect in the murder who later became a lawmaker, led to a sharp deterioration in ties under the former Labour government in London.

Lugovoi, who is accused of lacing Litvinenko's tea with highly radioactive polonium, denies any involvement in the killing.

Putin's trip to London also comes as British rock stars urged the president to give a fair trial to female punk band Pussy Riot, whose three members face up to seven years in jail for singing an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral.

The British stars, including The Who's Pete Townshend and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker called the charges against the three female band members "preposterous" in a letter to the Times newspaper.

© 2012 AFP

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