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G8 Summit

Syria divisions dominate Obama-Putin meeting at G-8 summit

Divisions between Russia and the US over Syria have overshadowed talks of G-8 leaders in Northern Ireland’s Enniskillen. The summit had begun on a positive note with progress on a trans-Atlantic free-trade deal.

US President Barack Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin disagreed on how to end the war in Syria on Monday during their encounter at the G8 summit, where divisions over the conflict overshadowed the rest of the agenda.

Speaking to reporters after two hours, Putin confirmed that Moscow and Washington had differing views over Syria but agreed that the bloodshed must stop and that the warring parties should be brought to the negotiating table.

"Our positions do not fully coincide, but we are united by the common intention to end the violence, to stop the number of victims increasing in Syria, to resolve the problems by peaceful means, including the Geneva talks," Putin said.

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Washington and Moscow support peace talks in Geneva but have disagreed on the timetable and on who should attend. 

Following military victories for al-Assad's forces recently, the United States announced last week that it had proof that the regime was using chemical weapons and that it would therefore step up military aid to the rebels. Critics warned that weapons delivered to Syrian rebels might end up helping extremists linked to Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.

The US decision to arm the rebels drew heavy criticism from Russia, which supplies weapons to al-Assad's military.  

"With respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem but we share an interest in reducing the violence and securing chemical weapons and ensuring that they're neither used nor are they subject to proliferation," Obama said.

The European Union meanwhile has allowed a weapons embargo against Syria to expire, allowing members of the 27-nation bloc to arm the rebels.

France and Britain are considering such a move, but the German government opposes it.

At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict since it began in 2011, and millions have been displaced.

On Monday, the US pledged 225 million euros ($300 million) to aid Syrian refugees.

The G-8 meeting brings together the leaders of the US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia.

As this year's summit kicked off on Monday, the United States and the EU opened negotiations for the world's most ambitious free-trade deal.

The first round of negotiations on that will take place in Washington in July.

rg/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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