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June 17, 2013

G8 exposes rift among leaders on Syria

(Continued)

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland —

“I am as worried as anybody else about elements of the Syrian opposition, who are extremists, who support terrorism and who are a great danger to our world,” Cameron said Monday.

Hollande, following his own meeting with Putin, made no mention of a French decision on sending weapons. But he appeared to open the door to some form of deeper involvement from Paris.

“How can you allow Russia to continue to send weapons to the regime of Bashar al-Assad while the opposition gets so few weapons?” Hollande said. “How can we accept the fact that we have proof of the use of chemical weapons without a unanimous condemnation by the international community, and that includes the G8?”

Obama, who has long signaled a preference for deepening U.S. engagement in Syria in conjunction with international partners, was expected to urge his British and French counterparts to join the U.S. in boosting lethal aid to the opposition. Syria was to be the primary topic among the G-8 leaders at a working dinner Monday night.

While Putin did not publicly criticize the U.S. decision to arm the opposition during his meeting with Obama, he exhibited far less restraint Sunday following his meeting with Cameron.

“One hardly should back those who kill their enemies and, you know, eat their organs,” he said, referencing a gruesome Internet video purportedly showing a rebel commander committing an act of cannibalism.

“Do we want to support these people?” Putin asked. “Do we want to supply arms to these people?”

European nations are so far opposed to the idea of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria to stop Assad from using his air power to crush rebel forces or kill civilians. Obama is considering such an option, though his aides have publicly questioned the feasibility, given Assad’s air defenses and the significant costs of such a program.

Perhaps signaling another fight to come between the U.S. and Russia, the foreign ministry in Moscow said Russia would veto a motion to set up a no-fly zone if the U.S. sought authorization from the United Nations Security Council.

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