US President Barack Obama (C-R), British Prime Minister David Cameron (C), French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin (C-L), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) take part in a meeting of the G8 summit yesterday in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. Photo: AFP
G8 leaders yesterday threw their weight behind calls for a peace conference on Syria to be held in Geneva "as soon as possible", after a summit dominated by the country's civil war.
At the end of two days of talks in Northern Ireland, the leaders also called for agreement on a transitional government in Syria "with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent".
British Prime Minister David Cameron, the summit host, said it was "unthinkable" that President Bashar al-Assad could play a role in a transitional administration, but the G8 communique pointedly made no reference to him, in an apparent concession to Syria's ally Russia.
After talks which at times pitted Russian President Vladimir Putin against his fellow G8 leaders, the final communique said the Syrian military and security services "must be preserved and restored" in a future set-up.
The leaders did not suggest a date for the proposed Syria talks, which were supposed to take place this month but have already been delayed.
The G8 nations pledged almost $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in humanitarian aid for refugees inside and outside Syria, including $300 million from the United States and 200 million euros from Germany.
After Washington said it would arm the Syrian rebels and the EU mulled the issue, the G8 said it was deeply concerned at the growing extremism and "terrorism" in Syria.
The world leaders called on the regime and the opposition to "commit to destroying and expelling from Syria all organisations and individuals affiliated to al-Qaeda, and any other non-state actors linked to terrorism".
Putin's sharp differences with US President Barack Obama over Syria were laid bare in icy face-to-face talks on Monday.
In his end-of-summit press conference, Putin said defiantly that Russia could not rule out sending fresh shipments of weapons to the Syrian regime.
The Russian president also accused the United States of "destabilising" the situation in Syria with its allegations that the regime has used nerve gas on a limited scale.
"Any decision about arms supplies to the opposition based on unconfirmed reports about the use of chemical weapons only additionally destabilises the situation," he said.
It was guarded by 8,000 police officers in the biggest security operation ever mounted in Northern Ireland's troubled history, but protesters were thin on the ground.
The G8 brings together Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.