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G8 Calls For Syria Conference 'As Soon As Possible'

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left), British Prime Minister David Cameron (center), and U.S. President Barack Obama attend a working session at the Lough Erne golf resort where the G8 summit took place in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, on June 18.
The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) group of industrialized countries have called for peace talks to be held in Geneva on the Syria conflict "as soon as possible."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on June 18 after a G8 summit in Northern Ireland that world leaders managed to overcome "fundamental differences" on the future of Syria.

"It's no secret that there were very different views around the G8 table," Cameron said. "But we all share a vital interest in bringing this conflict to an end and helping the Syrian people to achieve the change they want."

Leaders called in a final communique for an agreement on a Syrian transitional government "formed by mutual consent," but made no mention about the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- an apparent concession made to Russia.

Cameron, however, excluded any possible role for Assad in a transitional administration.

"I think it is unthinkable that President Assad can play any part in the future government of his country," Cameron said. "He has blood on his hands. He has used chemical weapons."

The G8 communique pledged $1.5 billion in new humanitarian aid to Syria, and also urged both Assad's government and the opposition to commit to destroying all organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

The final statement also recommended a United Nations investigation into the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict.

The U.S. administration last week announced its decision to offer military support to the rebels after Washington said it had definitive evidence of multiple instances of chemical-weapons use by Assad's regime.

In his postsummit press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized Western moves to allow arming the Syrian opposition.

"Any decisions about supplying weapons to the opposition, based on unconfirmed accusations of the use of chemical weapons by Damascus, will only destabilize the situation further," Putin said.

Putin said that Russia did not have any proof that Assad's regime has used chemical weapons, and warned that arms delivered to Syria's opposition might end up in terrorists' hands in Europe.

And Putin defended Russia's own military contacts with the Syrian government.

"We supply weapons under legal contracts to a legal government. It is the government of President Assad," Putin said. "And if we sign such contracts, we will deliver on them."

U.S. President Barack Obama met on June 17 with Putin to discuss Syria on the sidelines of the summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

Tax-Evasion Clampdown

Also at the summit, the leaders declared that governments must work together to close loopholes that allow multinational companies to avoid paying taxes in their home countries.

In a joint statement at the conclusion of the two-day summit, the leaders called on tax authorities across the world to share information to fight "the scourge of tax evasion."

They said changes were needed to rules that allow companies to "shift their profits across borders" to avoid taxes.

As part of the proposed measures, multinationals would be obliged to declare how much tax they pay in each country where they operate.

The G8 initiative reflects widespread anger over the ability of foreign companies to funnel profits to tax havens.

The G8 consists of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, and Russia.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa
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