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Meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron

June 16, 2013, London

Vladimir Putin and David Cameron held a bilateral meeting following the award presentation ceremony for the Arctic Convoys veterans.

After the meeting, the President of Russia and the British Prime Minister gave a joint news conference.

News conference following a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron: Good afternoon and welcome. It’s good to welcome President Putin to Downing Street a year after his memorable visit to the Olympics, when we watched the judo together.

As I said in Sochi last month, Britain and Russia share many interests: trading together to strengthen our economies, keeping our people safe at home and abroad, and working to tackle big international problems at the UN and, of course, at the G8. We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. We have different histories, different perspectives. But as our event today with the veterans of the arduous World War Two Arctic convoys reminds us, when we overcome our differences we can be a powerful partnership. That is why serious and honest conversations with President Putin are important to me, and we have covered three important issues especially.

First, ahead of the G8 at Lough Erne, we’ve talked about the need to sort out the rules of the game for the world economy to deliver success for the G8 and for the developing world: better information about tax and company ownership, so that everyone pays their fair share; more openness for mining, oil and gas companies, so they support growth and never undermine it. And, I have to say, I’m encouraged by President Putin’s strong support for this agenda at the G8 and as the next president of both the G8 and the G20. And we’ll be going into more detail on this in the days ahead.

Second, we’ve talked about our ideas to get Britain and Russia working better together on science and space, on energy cooperation and on new business deals, especially to support Russia’s Winter Olympics and the World Cup. We’ve discussed how governments need to create the confidence for trade and investment to grow. We’ve agreed to work on new agreements, on cooperation between our energy companies, and to launch negotiations for Britain to host a ground station for the GLONASS satellite GPS equivalent position – satellite positioning system. And with exports to Russia growing faster than to any other of Britain’s top 20 markets, we’re backing a new series of trade missions between our small and medium-sized businesses.

Third, we have talked about the war in Syria and how to end it. I believe that Assad is responsible for tearing his country apart, and that to end Syria’s nightmare he has to go. The new evidence this week of how the regime is gassing its people makes that clearer than ever. I also believe that if we leave Syria to be fought over between a murderous dictator and violent extremists, we will all pay the price. So I believe we must support the centre-ground of decent, moderate Syrians, who can be the basis of a new, united and peaceful Syria.

Now, it is no secret that President Putin and I have had our disagreements on some of these issues. But what I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognise that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people choose who governs them, and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them. So President Putin and I have discussed how we can use the G8 to bring new momentum and leadership, to start negotiations, to deliver a transitional government, to keep Syria intact and to stop the killing.

We agreed that the G8 must back the work of Secretary Lavrov and Secretary Kerry to bring Syrians into a new peace process. And we will use the opportunity of having G8 leaders together to try to build on this common ground. Almost 100,000 people have lost their lives in this war. The daily crimes there plumb new depths in the history of the region. Every month that passes leaves more dead and Syria more dangerous to the region and to all of us. We must work together to do everything we can to bring this dreadful conflict to an end. That is what we’ll do at Lough Erne and in the days and weeks ahead.

Thank you very much. I’ll now ask President Putin to speak.

President of Russia VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ladies and gentlemen,

Prime Minister Cameron and I have held substantive and constructive talks. In fact, it was a continuation of our recent meetings and conversations in the Russian city of Sochi. I am very pleased that the British Prime Minister and I enjoy such stable businesslike and constructive relations, which gives us the opportunity to discuss current issues in the economy, politics and international relations.

It's no secret that the global economy is facing great challenges. However, Russian-British economic ties continue growing. Last year, they increased by nearly 10% in the first few months. In the first four months of this year, bilateral trade grew by over 15%. That means a great deal, I assure you, because what stands behind these figures is jobs, economic activity, wages and taxes. It is a very positive aspect of our relations.

We have good prospects, especially in key sectors. Space is one of such high-tech spheres. The Prime Minister has already mentioned the Russian GLONASS system. We look forward to constructive cooperation in this area.

There are opportunities for cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, and not just in the United Kingdom and Russia, but also in third countries. Our companies Rolls-Royce and Rosatom have established close business ties.

As you know, our relations are developing very successfully in the field of hydrocarbons. Apart from BP, there are many other British companies working in Russia.

The mining and metals industry is developing dynamically. Moreover, the regional dimension of this cooperation is expanding. This is a very positive signal to our economies, and indeed for European economic activity.

We are interested in adopting the experience of the British capital as one of the world's financial centres, and in working in the field of small and medium-sized businesses. Those initiatives were put forward by Prime Minister Cameron, and we are paying close attention to them. We hope that all this will evolve into joint, very positive and promising work.

Naturally, we talked about the most pressing international issues. One of them is Syria. We are united by our common goal and desire to create the conditions for conflict settlement. I agree with Prime Minister Cameron that it should be done as quickly as possible. I very much hope that Mr Prime Minister’s initiatives, particularly in the context of the forthcoming discussions among the leaders of the eight leading nations, will play a positive role in the settlement process. There are other matters we will discuss as well, which are equally complex. But this is one of the most acute issues and we are all aware of that.

We very much hope that our relations with the United Kingdom will continue to develop in the same positive way in the future. There are good reasons for that, the most important of which is that we have shared interests. I have mentioned some promising joint projects. I hope that we will make progress on them.

In conclusion, I would say that we began our meeting today with a very emotional event: the presentation of state awards, as Prime Minister Cameron has already mentioned, to Northern Convoys veterans (also called Arctic Convoys), former British servicemen. These are elderly people but their courage in the fight against Nazism is not diminished; on the contrary, the further these events recede into history, the more we realise the greatness of what these people achieved in the fight against the Nazi threat, both in Russia and the UK.

We share a great deal in the historical past. I hope we have a bright future.

Thank you very much for your attention.

D.Cameron:Thank you very much, Mr President. We have time, I’m afraid, just for two questions. First from the BBC.

Question: First of all, to President Putin: the Prime Minister has said in the past that those supporting President Assad have the blood of Syrian children on their hands. Given that Russia is arming one side in this conflict, is it not hypocritical to criticise those who want to arm the other side?

And to the Prime Minister: how would you describe the feeling amongst Tory backbenchers and your Liberal Democrat coalition partners about the idea of arming the rebels? One Tory MP said today that it would be suicidal.

D.Cameron:Well, first of all, let’s be clear about who is responsible for what has happened in Syria. I am in no doubt the responsibility lies with President Assad. It is the onslaught that he has inflicted on his own people which is the primary cause of the suffering, the humanitarian catastrophe, and the death that we have seen.

In terms of the domestic debate here, we, I believe rightly, changed the terms of the EU arms embargo, because it was almost as if it was saying there was some sort of equivalence between Assad on the one hand and the official Syrian opposition on the other, and I don’t believe there is. The Syrian opposition have committed to a democratic, pluralistic Syria that will respect minorities, including Christians. So that is the argument for that, but we’ve made no decision to arm the rebels, to arm the opposition, but I think it’s very important that we continue to work with them, help them, train and assist them, in order to make sure that we have an influence on the opposition, who I believe want a democratic Syria. That’s how it should be. So that’ll be my answer, and I’ll hand over to President Putin for the first half of your question.

V.Putin: On the question of supplying arms to Assad’s government and the question of who has the Syrian people’s blood, including the blood of children, on their hands, I am sure none of you would deny that both sides have blood on their hands. The question of who is to blame always arises.

I am sure you agree that we surely should not support people who not only kill their enemies but cut open their bodies and eat their innards before the public and the cameras. 

Do you want to support such people? Do you want to arm these people? If so, it seems there is precious little relation here with the humanitarian values that Europe has espoused and spread over all these centuries now. We, in Russia, cannot conceive of such a situation, in any case.

But, laying emotions aside and taking a purely working approach to the issue, let me note that Russia delivers arms to the legally recognised Syrian government in full accordance with the rules of international law. I stress the point that we are not violating any laws here, none at all, and I call on our partners to act in this same way.

Question: I have a question for both leaders, also on Syria. How do you assess the chances for organising an international conference on settling the situation there in light of the various recent proposals that have come up, establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, expanding support for the opposition forces, and the Syrian opposition’s refusal to take part in such a conference? Don’t you think that this all buries for good the whole idea of holding such a conference?

V.Putin: I would not say that this buries for good the idea of organising this conference. What’s more, I fully agree with the Prime Minister that this is probably one of the most probable, productive and acceptable ways to try to resolve the Syrian crisis.

This crisis can be resolved only through political and diplomatic means. The Prime Minister is an active supporter of organising Geneva 2. We discussed this matter in detail when he was in Sochi, and later discussed it actively with our American partners. We informed our British and other partners about the state of work.

It is my conviction that we can find a definitive solution to this crisis and get the parties to the conflict to take their places at the negotiating table only by working together in a common effort, and with the goodwill of all sides, of course.

D.Cameron: Let me back up there what President Putin has said. I mean, you can see there are very big differences between the analysis we have of what happened in Syria and who is to blame, but where there is common ground is we both see a humanitarian catastrophe; we both see the dangers of instability and extremism; we both want to see a peace conference and a transition.

So, the challenge for the G8, and for this process is to try and put aside some of the differences and to focus on the common ground where we both want to see a peace process, a transition, take place. That is going to be the challenge for us in the days and the weeks ahead, and I think the talks we’ve had today have been another positive step in recognising that, while there are these differences, if we focus on this common ground we can indeed make some progress, and I hope we will be doing that at Louch Erne.

Can I thank you again for coming. Can I thank the President again for coming to what was a very moving ceremony with the veterans of the Arctic convoys. They did extraordinary brave things during the war; they’ve waited for over 70 years for the recognition that they got from the British government, the Arctic Star today, and it was a pleasure and an honour to be them – to be with them – to see them receive the Ushakov medal at the same time. So, very, very much thank you President – Mr President for coming and making that happen today. Thank you very much.

June 16, 2013, London