G8 foreign ministers meet on Wednesday in London, where host Britain will press its case for doing more to help the Syrian opposition against President Bashar al-Assad and end a devastating civil war.
Responding to threats from North Korea of an imminent conflict with its southern neighbour will also be high on the agenda of the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia - gathered in Britain’s capital till Thursday.
Leaders of the Syrian National Coalition will be present on the sidelines of the G8 and hold talks with those foreign ministers willing to meet them, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters on Tuesday.
Hague, his French counterpart Laurent Fabius and US Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to hold talks with the civilian opposition figures.
“I will be joining and convening some of those meetings to discuss the urgent humanitarian needs and the urgent need for a political and diplomatic breakthrough on Syria,” Hague said.
France and Britain are expected once again to press the case for amending or lifting an arms embargo on Syria to support the outgunned rebels waging a two-year-old uprising against Assad and help end a civil war that has already claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and displaced millions of people.
“This is turning into the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century so far, and we cannot watch this happen,” Hague said, adding that humanitarian aid, while indispensable, would not alone solve the Syrian crisis.
“We certainly believe that it’s necessary to continue, if the situation continues to deteriorate, to increase the practical help we give to the Syrian opposition,” Hague said.
Paris and London say they want to raise pressure on Assad and try to force him to the negotiating table by allowing the supply of arms to the rebels.
But other G8 countries such as Russia and Germany have opposed the move, fearing it could lead to weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants and fuel a regional conflict.
Changing the EU arms ban on Syria, which must be renewed or amended by June 1, needs backing from all 27 EU states. Britain and France have said they could act alone if they do not get their way.
Hague said Britain had made no decision yet to supply lethal weapons to the Syrian opposition, but that he would discuss the matter with his French counterpart Fabius on Wednesday.
“We think that as things stand today there is going to be a very strong case for further amendments to the embargo or the lifting of the embargo,” he said.
G8 foreign ministers will also discuss how to respond to North Korea, which has waved threats of imminent conflict against the United States and South Korea and on Tuesday warned foreigners to evacuate the South to avoid being caught in a war.
Russia said on Tuesday the G8 was in agreement in rejecting North Korea’s recent provocative behaviour and urged all sides to pursue diplomacy to calm the increasingly tense situation in northeast Asia.
Hague said that, just like Iran, nuclear-ambitious North Korea had the choice between engaging in “realistic” international talks or facing increased international sanctions.
“If they continue on this path ... they will end up with a broken country that is isolated,” Hague said, noting that even longtime ally China was disapproving of North Korea’s actions.
Other than top international issues, Hague said foreign ministers planned to discuss Burma, Somalia, cyber-security and the issue of preventing sexual violence in warzones.