Cameron Says Putin Was Explicit That Russia Not Backing Assad

Russian President Vladimir Putin made it “explicit” he isn’t invested in the survival of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said, in the clearest sign yet that world leaders are converging on the need for a political transition to end 15 months of bloodshed.

“There remain differences over sequencing and the shape of how the transition takes place, but it is welcome that President Putin has been explicit that he is not opted for Assad to remain in charge in Syria,” Cameron said yesterday, after meeting with Putin at a Group of 20 Summit in Mexico.

Syria topped the foreign policy agenda at the gathering of the world’s most influential economies. Putin, who wants to preserve Russia’s only toehold in the Arab world, came under pressure to show he is no longer clinging to Assad and is willing to consider a succession.

“It is important to push for such a situation that a shift of power -- if it happens, and it can happen only in a constitutional way -- helps to establish peace in the country,” Putin told reporters in the Mexican beach resort of Los Cabos.

Cameron’s remarks prompted disagreement. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they “don’t correspond to reality.”

While French President Francois Hollande said Russia “is playing its role to enable this transition,” U.S. President Barack Obama struck a more cautious note.

Situation ‘Grave’

“I don’t think it would be fair to say that the Russians and the Chinese are signed on at this point,” Obama said. “I think what is fair to say is that they recognize that the current situation is grave. It does not serve their interests.”

A shift by Putin, who regained the presidency of Russia after winning the election in March, might end an impasse over how to halt the violence in a country that the United Nations says is now in the throes of a civil war. The Russian leader has protected Assad with UN Security Council vetoes and Russia has sold weapons to the Assad regime.

Western powers led by the U.S., U.K. and France have clashed with Russia on how to tackle a crisis that has killed more than 10,000 Syrians. Russia has accused the U.S. and its European and Arab allies of trying to duplicate the overthrow of the regime of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.

Obama said he and Putin agreed to work with “all interested parties” to bring an end to the Syrian conflict. Obama didn’t address whether Iran, Syria’s closest ally, should take part in the talks, as Russia has insisted. Obama said he also discussed Syria with China’s president, Hu Jintao.

Leadership Transition

“What we need next is an agreement on a transitional leadership which can move Syria toward a democratic future that protects the rights of all its communities,” Cameron said at a news conference.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed frustration over the lack of consensus on Syria. The UN suspended its observer mission in Syria on June 16 because of escalating violence and withdrew personnel to bases within the country.

“How many times do I have to condemn these atrocities?” Ban said. “And how many different ways do I have to say and condemn this is a totally unacceptable situation?”

A crackdown by Assad on what started as a peaceful opposition movement has pushed Syria toward sectarian civil war, putting the majority Sunnis against the Alawite leadership in a nation that is a patchwork of ethnic and religious groups.

Insurgents, using guerrilla tactics such as ambushes and targeting army generals for assassination, are grabbing control of territory and relying on sponsors from the Persian Gulf for weapons. Pro-government forces are retaliating with heavy weapons and increasing violence, as shown in the massacres of Sunni civilians around Houla and in the village of Qubeir.

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