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Obama and Putin cite differences on Syria but say they want violence to end

President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk about their conversations regarding Syria at the G-8 summit Monday.

President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart — on opposite sides of a civil war but using delicate language about a difference of opinion — said Monday that they shared an interest in stopping the bloodshed in Syria, as the White House planned to announce more than $300 million in a new humanitarian aid package to go to the war-torn country and its neighbors. 

Obama and President Vladimir Putin met at the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland, their first time talking face to face in more than a year. 

The meeting came days after Obama angered Moscow by authorizing military help for the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad. The two-year conflict has left more than 90,000 people dead. Putin is Assad’s strongest ally. 

The newest round of humanitarian aid puts the total U.S. spending on relief efforts at $800 million. Less than half of Monday’s announced total will go to Syria, with the rest going to help neighboring countries who have taken on refugees, the White House said. The United States has contributed more to humanitarian aid during the civil war than any other country. 

“Of course our opinions do not coincide,” Putin said through an interpreter after the meeting with Obama. “But all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria.”

“Of course our opinions do not coincide,” Putin said through an interpreter after the meeting with Obama. “But all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria.”

Obama also chose careful words. He said that the two leaders “have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence.” Both presidents said they hoped to push the two sides in Syria to the bargaining table.

Putin criticized the West's position during talks with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron on the eve of the summit, saying that the rebels were cannibals.

"I think you will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines, in front of the public and cameras," Putin said at a tense joint news conference with Cameron on Sunday.

Peter Muhly / AFP - Getty Images

Barack Obama, wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia are greeted by Joan Christie, The Queen's official representative in County Antrim, upon arrival at Belfast International Airport, Northern Ireland, on Monday.

The two leaders did, however, say they were on similar pages when it came to North Korea and Iran. Both men voiced cautious optimism about the election of Hassan Rowhani in Iran, offering hope that he will work with the U.S. and Russia to resolve the problems surrounding the country's attempts to develop nuclear weapons. 

Putin and Obama also said they had agreed to increase interaction with North Korea.

Following the bilateral meeting, the two countries announced they would hold another meeting in Moscow in September around the time of the Group of Twenty summit.

Besides the United States and Russia, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Italy and Germany are members of the G-8, a group of the world’s wealthiest economies.

Before he sat down with Putin, Obama delivered a speech on sustaining Catholic-Protestant reconciliation 15 years after the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord. He spoke in Belfast's Waterfront Hall, a glass-fronted building that would never have been built during the city's long era of car bombs that ended with a 1997 Irish Republican Army cease-fire.

In his speech, Obama said that the peace achieved in Northern Ireland — part of the United Kingdom, unlike the Republic of Ireland just south of the border — after decades of violence known as the Troubles was an example for those struggling to end violence around the world.

NBC's Kristen Welker previews President Barack Obama's trip to the G-8 summit and explains that Syria will be a central topic of conversation when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Beyond these shores right now in scattered corners of the world there are people living in the grip of conflict, ethnic conflict, religious conflict, tribal conflicts," he said.  "And they are groping for a way to find a way to discover how to move beyond the heavy hand of history — to put aside the violence. ... And they're wondering perhaps if Northern Ireland can achieve peace we can too. So you're their blueprint to follow."

The G-8 summit was being held just minutes from the town of Enniskillen, a small town with a painful past.  In 1987, militants belonging to the Irish Republican Army bombed the town's annual memorial ceremony for British war veterans. The attack killed 11 people and injured 63.

In a sign of how much has changed, last year Queen Elizabeth made history by walking across the town’s narrow high street between the Protestant and Catholic churches which face one another, 25th anniversary of the bombing. It was the first time the queen had ever set foot in a Catholic church on the island of Ireland.

Obama stressed that maintaining the peace was a constant struggle:

“Whether you are a good neighbor to someone from the other side of past battles -- that's up to you. Whether you treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve -- that's up to you. Whether you let your kids play with kids who attend a different church -- that's your decision. Whether you take a stand against violence and hatred, and tell extremists on both sides that no matter how many times they attack the peace, they will not succeed -- that is in your hands. And whether you reach your own outstretched hand across dividing lines, across peace walls, to build trust in a spirit of respect -- that's up to you.”  

Obama was traveling with his wife, Michelle, who spoke before him in Belfast, and their two daughters.

In the afternoon, Obama, Cameron and European leaders launched negotiations for the world's most ambitious free-trade deal, promising that the eventual agreement would create thousands of new jobs and speed-up growth in the U.S. and European Union.

As Obama heads to Northern Ireland for the G-8 summit, so will thousands of anti-capitalist demonstrators, posing a challenge for police used to high security. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.

“America and Europe have done extraordinary things together before and I believe we can forge an economic alliance as strong as our diplomatic and security alliances, which of course, have been the most powerful in history,” Obama said at a press conference announcing the deal. 

Meanwhile, a British newspaper reported Britain intercepted telephone calls and monitored computers used by foreign ministers taking part in two high-level international meetings. 

The Guardian said some delegates from countries in the Group of 20 -- which comprises top economies around the world -- used Internet cafes that had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their emails in London in 2009. The report was published hours before leaders of the G-8 countries -- all of which are in the G-20 -- started the Northern Ireland summit.

Earlier this month, the newspaper reported details of surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) of phone records and Internet data in the U.S. The newspaper said the evidence was contained in documents that were leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Northern Ireland's police appear to be leaving little to chance in ensuring security around the Lough Erne resort just outside Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. More than 3,500 officers were drafted in from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of officers on duty each day of the summit to 8,000.

Army engineers helped set up steel fences and coiled razor wire for miles around the resort's lone road entrance.  

Only 2,000 protesters were expected to travel to the remote resort for Monday night's main planned demonstration

NBC News' Emma Ong, Andrew Rafferty, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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