David Cameron and allies urge Vladimir Putin to get behind Syria peace drive
David Cameron has joined fellow European leaders to urge Vladimir Putin to help transform the current fragile truce in the Syrian civil war into the kind of long-lasting ceasefire which would add momentum to peace talks.
The Prime Minister took part in a 50-minute conference call with the Russian president, along with French president Francois Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian PM Matteo Renzi.
The European leaders told Mr Putin they welcomed the cessation of hostilities in Syria over the past week and that they wanted to seize the opportunity to create a "positive dynamic" for UN-sponsored peace talks due to start in Geneva next week, leading to a political transition to a new administration to replace the regime of Moscow protege Bashar Assad.
Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said: "The call was initiated by the European leaders because we want to take the opportunity that has been created by the truce in recent days to open the path for more substantive peace process and negotiations.
"The main point that the European leaders made on the call to Putin was that we welcome the fact that this fragile truce appears to be holding. We have got to use this as a positive dynamic now to create some momentum behind the talks which we hope will get under way next week, so that we can move from a truce into a more lasting durable peace with a political transition away from Assad.
"President Putin agreed that the main task was now to maintain compliance with the truce and to make sure that it will stand and then to get people around the table in Geneva next week for the talks on transition.
"They also spoke about the importance of allowing humanitarian aid to reach besieged towns."
The spokeswoman said that Mr Cameron underlined the fact that all of the countries involved in the call had "a common interest" in defeating the Islamic State terror group - referred to by the Prime Minister as Daesh - in Syria and tackling the threat from Islamist extremists.
He told Mr Putin that "it is in all our interests to support a peace process in the country that can lead to a stable, inclusive government that has the support of all Syrians", said the spokeswoman.
The opening of the talks being led by United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura has already been pushed back by the United Nations from March 7 to March 9 to allow the ceasefire "to better settle down", amid reports of violations on all sides.
Moscow has been carrying out air strikes against what it terms "terrorists" in Syria since September, but Western nations have accused Mr Putin of also targeting more moderate groups opposing the Assad regime.
Asked whether Mr Cameron trusted Mr Putin to deliver on promises to support the truce, the PM's spokeswoman said: "We are clear that this is an extremely difficult conflict that has proven very hard to resolve.
"We are committed to working with partners and to taking opportunities where we can to try to make progress. We think this fragile truce presents an opportunity. That's why we need to urge President Putin, the regime and its backers to work with the international community on this."
She added: "What we welcome is the fact that there was a sense from everybody in the call that we have an opportunity and we have got to create some momentum behind it.
"It was a very clear, direct conversation between all the leaders on .. the need to seize this opportunity and grab it, otherwise the prospects to resolve this are bleak."
The call was Mr Cameron's first conversation with Mr Putin since the release of an explosive inquiry report which found that the Russian president probably ordered the 2006 murder of former security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. However, the PM's spokeswoman said that the case was not discussed in the call, which focused exclusively on Syria.