Syria tops agenda as David Cameron meets Vladimir Putin


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Indy Politics

Prime Minister David Cameron held talks at 10 Downing Street with Russian President Vladimir Putin today 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".

"We agreed to continue working to find a viable solution," said the Russian president.

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."

After their talks at Downing Street, Mr Putin lavished praise on Danny Boyle's "unforgettable" opening ceremony.

And he said he hoped his country could learn lessons from some of the problems faced by London when Sochi hosts the Winter Olympics in 2014.

He opened his remarks with a tribute to last Friday's opening extravaganza, saying through a translator: "It was quite a spectacle.

"It was a wonderful feast presented by you to mankind."

Speaking about the 2014 Games, he said: "Of course while organising such large-scale events, very many problems may crop up.

"That is why we will be quite interested in learning from the experience of our British colleagues."

Labour's former foreign minister Denis MacShane said: "It is shameful that Putin comes to London at the personal invitation of the Prime Minister but faces no public questions about his UN veto of action against the bloodthirsty, brutal Syrian dictatorship, or the dramatic worsening of human rights in Russia symbolised by the photo of the Pussy Riot girl rockers peering through prison bars like an image from the Soviet Gulag.

"The extra red carpet rolled out today for Putin by David Cameron in exchange for nothing that he can report to the British public shows British foreign policy is again relegating human rights and democracy-promotion."