Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Syria tops agenda as PM meets Putin

Prime Minister David Cameron and Russia's President Vladimir Putin discussed Syria and bilateral trade when they met at Number 10

Prime Minister David Cameron has held talks at 10 Downing Street with Russian President Vladimir Putin at which the bloody unrest in Syria topped the agenda.

Both men agreed to continue discussions between London and Moscow on the issue, which has caused splits in the United Nations Security Council, with Russia repeatedly vetoing resolutions designed to increase pressure on Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Mr Cameron said the talks had also focused on bilateral trade issues and hailed the "steady growth" in UK-Russia relations.

But the Prime Minister joked that he was glad to be taking the Russian president, who holds a black belt in judo, to watch the sport at the Olympics and not to take part.

Speaking after the talks, Mr Cameron pointed to differences in the British and Russian approaches to the Syrian crisis. But he added: "We both want to see an end to that conflict and a stable Syria. We will continue to discuss with our foreign ministers how we can take this forward."

Mr Putin made no direct reference to his country's stance with regard to long-standing ally Damascus, but said that there were areas where Russia and Britain "see eye-to-eye". The Russian president added: "We agreed to continue working to find a viable solution."

Mr Putin also lavished praise on the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, which he said was "unforgettable". Speaking through a translator, he described Danny Boyle's show as "a wonderful feast presented by you to mankind".

Immediately after the talks, the two leaders set off for the ExCeL Arena to watch the final stages of the judo competition together. Mr Cameron joked: "I look forward to taking the president to the judo but I note that we will be spectators and not participants."

Mr Cameron was keen to tread carefully in his talks with Mr Putin, who is visiting Britain for the first time in eight years. Contacts had been broken off amid allegations that Russia was involved in the 2006 murder of dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London, but relations have begun to thaw, with Mr Cameron travelling to Moscow last autumn and holding talks with Mr Putin at the June G20 summit in Mexico.

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