17 Jun 2013

G8/Syria: Obama silent and Cameron light on support

A couple of times, I put it to David Cameron that he could talk about wanting to arm Syria but he didn’t have the political room for manoeuvre to do it – his hands were tied by the strength of opposition within his own party, let alone in the Lib Dems and Labour.

He repeatedly insisted that he wasn’t arming Syrian rebels so the problem didn’t arise. That’s not how it looks to others. One EU member diplomatic source said the prime minister¬†looked like he’d been trying, along with President Hollande, to get President Obama to sign up to arms for Syria, only to discover he couldn’t deliver anything himself – it all sounded a bit like a man who drags his friend to the bar only to discover he’s got no money himself to buy a round.

You get a good flavour of President Obama’s wariness on Syria in this Mark Mardell blog – as Mark points out, the president is so excited about supplying arms to Syria that he hasn’t uttered a word in public about it since the change of policy was announced on Thursday.

As I write, President Obama has missed another opportunity to talk about Syria when he addressed students at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall. He talked about a peace process but only the one they worked out here before his time.¬† He’ll talk on camera later today about EU-US trade but there’s no sign he’s going to break his purdah on Syria today. President Obama looks like a leader uncomfortable with his position on Syria flanked, in the case of David Cameron, by someone who’s firing blanks.

The leaders get round to talking about all this around 6pm and then over dinner from around 8pm. William Hague in London raised the rhetoric talking about the risk that the Syrian opposition risked being “exterminated” without help. Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, something of a favourite with David Cameron I’m told (Mr Cameron thinks he’s a politician to his fingertips and enjoys shooting the breeze on politics with him), accused Russia of “backing thugs” in Syria. They should be lively conversations.

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