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G-8 leaders sidestep differences over Syria

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland — The United States and leaders of other major industrialized nations Tuesday papered over differences on Syria and the global economy in statements that summarized their two-day annual summit.

On the issue that dominated the private talks of the Group of Eight, the worsening regional war in Syria, the leaders averted a clash with Russian President Vladimir Putin by avoiding mention in their declaration of the most contentious matters that divide him and them. Those include the fate of President Bashar Assad of Syria, Russia's ally, in any peace settlement with the rebels.

Russia refused to back any declaration that made Assad's ouster an explicit goal, arguing that it would be impossible to start peace talks with a predetermined outcome.

And despite persistent differences between the Obama administration and the Europeans over Europe's insistence on continued budget cutting instead of stimulus measures in the face of the continent's recession, the parties' final communique suggested agreement on economic policies in language that either side could embrace.

"Promoting growth and jobs is our top priority," it said in a line that belied divisions between the Americans and European leaders over whether austerity or stimulus best achieves the goal.

While economic issues typically are the focus of these meetings, this gathering was preoccupied by the Syrian conflict. After lengthy negotiations the leaders endorsed the idea of holding a new peace conference in Geneva "as soon as possible," something that British Prime Minister David Cameron, the meeting's host, said had been "slipping away" before the discussions.

The Geneva meeting is likely to be delayed until late August or September, according to one Western official. That has fueled fears that Putin is playing for time on Assad's behalf, calculating that by late summer Syria's fragmented opposition will be further weakened by military reverses.

The declaration gave a little more detail about how a transition to a new government would work. But the absence of a call for Assad's departure — as President Barack Obama and some European leaders demand — underscored Putin's support of him.

G-8 leaders, from left, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and European Council President Herman Van Rumpuy, meet Tuesday in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

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G-8 leaders, from left, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and European Council President Herman Van Rumpuy, meet Tuesday in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

G-8 leaders sidestep differences over Syria 06/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 12:42am]
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