BELEK, Turkey (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will urge President Vladimir Putin on Monday to focus Russian air strikes in Syria on Islamic State militants.
Russia began bombing Syria in September in support of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad but has been accused by Washington of targeting mainly groups other than Islamic State, including fighters backed by the United States and its allies.
“We have our differences with the Russians, not least because they’ve done so much to degrade the non-ISIL opposition to Assad,” Cameron told reporters on Sunday ahead of a meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Turkey.
“The conversation I want to have with Vladimir Putin is to say, ‘look, there is one thing we agree about, which is (that) we’d be safer in Russia, we’d be safer in Britain if we destroy ISIL. That’s what we should be focusing on’.”
A source in Cameron’s office said Britain hoped the meeting, the first between the pair in a year, would be an opportunity to have a “deeper conversation” about the situation in Syria, in particular over Assad’s future.
“The proposals that the Russians have put forward looked at moving from terrorism to constitutional reform to elections but didn’t really get into acknowledging the process of transition around that so those are the types of issues we will want to get into,” the source said.
“We are realistic ... There is a lot still to be worked out,” the source said. “We see the opportunity of the discussions here, particularly in the wake of the events in Paris and Sharm (al-Sheikh) to try and persuade Putin of the need to work together to defeat ISIL.”
U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin met at the G20 summit on Sunday, agreeing the need for a Syria-led political transition, including U.N.-mediated talks.
The source in Cameron’s office said the United States and European countries had worked together ahead of the summit to ensure they took on a “clear, consistent approach” towards Russia on Syria.
Obama, Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will meet on Monday afternoon to discuss tackling ISIL and making a coordinated effort on the political process in Syria.
On Sunday Cameron also said the attacks in Paris had made it “even more clear” that Islamic State militants must be defeated, whether in Iraq or Syria.
Britain is participating in air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq but Cameron has said he will not extend the mission to Syria without the backing of parliament, something that he does not yet have.
“Others are taking action in Syria which we both support and enable, but we’ve got to keep on making the case that we will be safer in the UK, in France, right across Europe, if we destroy this death cult once and for all,” he said.
Additional reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Greg Mahlich