Putin, Cameron Signal Little Progress on Syria in London Talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron held talks in London today that highlighted divisions over how to end the bloodshed in Syria.

“Of course there have been some differences in the positions we’ve taken over the Syrian conflict,” Cameron told reporters after the meeting at his Downing Street office. “We both want to see an end to that conflict and a stable Syria, and we’ll continue to discuss, with our foreign ministers, how we can take this agenda forward.”

Russia prompted condemnation last month when along with China it refused to back a resolution at the United Nations aimed at increasing pressure on Syrian President Bashar al Assad to go. Foreign Secretary William Hague called the decision “inexcusable and indefensible.” Kofi Annan, the UN special envoy to Syria, resigned today after failing in his peace efforts to end the 17-month crisis.

“We made note of the fact that there are some things on which we see eye-to-eye, and we agreed to continue working to find a viable solution on that matter,” Putin, who is on his first visit to Britain for seven years, said through an interpreter.

Following their 45-minute meeting, the two leaders travelled in separate convoys to east London watch the final stages of the Olympics judo competition.

Cameron joked that he was glad to be taking Putin, who holds a black belt in the martial art, to watch the sport and not to take part. Earlier London Mayor Boris Johnson joked that Putin might want to join in the judo.

‘Stripped to the Waist’

“I hope he will take part -- isn’t he a dab hand?” Johnson told reporters. “I think that’s what people want to see -- stripped to the waist. We want the politicians’ Olympics, that’s what we want.”

Cameron said his talks with Putin had focused on boosting trade and that the two countries would seek further cooperation on areas including energy supply.

Cameron briefly broached the issue of human rights concerns over the case of a Russian all-female punk group facing seven years in jail for a political protest act inside a Moscow cathedral, a spokesman for the U.K. premier said.

Diplomatic relations between the U.K. and Russia deteriorated over the 2006 death of dissident ex-Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who died after being poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210, blamed Putin for the murder in a death-bed statement, an accusation the Kremlin called “absurd.” Russia has refused requests from Britain for the extradition of the chief suspect in the case, ex KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi. He denies any wrongdoing.

‘Major Problem’

Leaders of the two countries didn’t meet for five years until Cameron visited Moscow last year, saying differences must be set aside to boost trade. Intelligence cooperation remains suspended as a result of Litvinenko’s killing.

Speaking to Sky News today, Cameron said Britain had not softened its stance over the Litvinenko case, which he described as a “major problem,” but that it should not stand in the way of progress in other areas, including efforts to end the violence in Syria.

“That part of the relationship has not thawed and will not thaw,” he said.

Putin, who became president for a third time in May, was last in Britain for the Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.

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