The crisis in Syria was set
to dominate Monday's session of the two-day G8 summit, with the
meeting's host, British Prime Minister David Cameron, tasked with the
challenge of mediating between Russia and the other world leaders.
While US President Barack Obama and his family only arrived a few hours before the start of the summit at the luxury Loch Erne golf resort in Northern Ireland, Cameron was able to hold a pre-summit meeting in London with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.
"Where there is common ground is that we both see a humanitarian catastrophe, we both see the dangers of extremism," Cameron said after speaking with Putin about the Syrian conflict, which according to latest UN figures has left at least 93,000 people dead.
"If we focus on that common ground we can indeed make some progress," Cameron added.
But with the US planning to arm the Syrian rebels amid evidence that the regime had used chemical weapons, and the Russians refusing to deal with opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she expected "controversial discussions" to take place near the town of Enniskillen.
"Unfortunately, Russia has until now prevented several resolutions in the [UN] Security Council. Perhaps we can now make progress on this issue," Merkel told RTL television ahead of her departure.
There are "certainly going to be controversial discussions in some areas" at the G8, she said after reiterating her position that Germany will not be supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition.
The Group of Eight comprises seven leading industrialized nations - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, plus Russia and the European Union.
Cameron has said he wants this year's summit to focus on the economic issues that have worried leaders since the financial crisis of 2007-08.
His government has put what Cameron calls the "three Ts" - updating international tax rules, transparency and opening up trade - at the top of the official agenda.
And European leaders and Obama are expected to use the G8 to formally launch negotiations for an EU-US trade deal designed to create the largest free-trade zone in the world.
However, the opening of the summit was overshadowed by reports that Britain's intelligence services had intercepted communications by delegates attending two G20 meetings in 2009 in London.
The revelations, made by the Guardian newspaper, risked creating an embarrassment for Cameron, given that the recent discovery of electronic eavesdropping by the United States was likely to come up for discussion in Northern Ireland.
Around 8,000 police officers, including an extra 3,600 drafted in from England and Wales, were on hand to guarantee security at the summit.
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