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G8 nears Syria compromise, tackles tax evasion

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

World leaders were close to striking a deal on pushing for peace in Syria at the G8 summit on Tuesday as they also tried to reach agreement on cracking down on tax evasion.

Deep divisions between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the other Group of Eight leaders on Syria have been laid bare at the meeting in Northern Ireland, but they appear to have reached a limited agreement, sources from two Western countries told AFP.

The exact wording of the end-of-summit statement is still being worked out, but on Syria it is likely to focus on less contentious issues such as the need to push for a new peace conference in Geneva and on humanitarian aid, one official said.

A draft of the communique obtained by AFP left blank a section devoted to Syria, indicating that talks were going down to the wire.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said agreement was possible but that there would be further discussions before the summit wrapped up.

"We believe that the G8 can reach agreement on the approach to take us forward to Geneva 2," the spokesman said.

Putin and US President Barack Obama made no attempt to conceal their differences after icy face-to-face talks at the Lough Erne golf resort on Monday.

"Of course our opinions do not converge, but all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria," said Putin, while Obama admitted the two men had "different perspectives" on the brutal conflict.

British officials had suggested late Monday that the rest of the G8 could leave Putin out in the cold and press ahead with issuing a statement on Syria without Russia, but a night of haggling by officials appeared to have reached a form of agreement.

But issues such as arms -- Washington said last week it would start sending weapons to the rebels, while Moscow is a strong supporter of President Bashar al-Assad -- were largely left off the table, the officials said.

Chemical weapons were also likely to be a sticking point. The United States, Britain and France all say they have evidence that Assad's forces have used nerve gas against the Syrian rebels but Russia says there is no proof.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also insisted on Tuesday that the proposed peace conference in Geneva should not imply any "capitulation" by the Syrian regime or a handover of power to the opposition.

The US president also unveiled a new $300 million (220 million euro) aid package for refugees inside and outside Syria. Germany followed that with a pledge of 200 million euros.

The conflict has claimed the lives of at least 93,000 people since it began in March 2011, according to the United Nations.

The G8 leaders have however reached agreement to curb the payment of ransoms for hostages kidnapped by "terrorists", Cameron's office said.

The leaders would also call on companies to follow their lead in refusing to pay for the release of abductees, in a bid to remove one of the motivations of hostage-takers, it said.

Britain was determined to tackle the issue after Islamic extremists took workers hostage at a gas plant in Algeria earlier this year in an attack which saw 37 people.

Cameron was also driving forward an initiative to fight tax evasion, banking secrecy and to increase the transparency of multinational companies.

The draft communique said the G8 nations had agreed to publish national action plans "to make information on who really owns and profits from companies and trusts available to tax collection and law enforcement agencies."

The leaders also look likely to commit to work with the OECD on the issue.

The Paris-based body provided ammunition for a G8 offensive in a report Tuesday outlining how to bring about automatic sharing of financial information, considered the key weapon in the fight against banking secrecy.

The report -- commissioned at the G8's request -- suggests that countries adopt broad, standardised legislation so that bilateral information-sharing agreements can be quickly and easily negotiated.

Cameron is hosting Obama, Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130618/g8-nears-syria-compromise-tackles-tax-evasion