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G-8 leaders call for peace talks to end Syria's civil war

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland - Global leaders at the G-8 summit called for peace talks to resolve Syria’s civil war Tuesday, but made no mention of arming the rebels or what should happen to President Bashar Assad.

“We remain committed to achieving a political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria,” said a final communique.

The document made no mention of Assad, whom Western leaders have said in the past said must step down as part of a resolution.

However, in an indication of some agreement, it did call on both sides to commit to “destroying and expelling” al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and removing “any other non-state actors linked to terrorism.”

President Barack Obama echoed that concern, saying it was important to build a strong opposition in Syria that could function if Assad loses power.

On Monday in Northern Ireland, President Obama spoke with Vladimir Putin in a meeting that was more cordial than expected. Regarding Syria, seven of the G-8 countries find themselves on one side while Russia is on the other. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

Isolated at the G-8, Russia's Vladimir Putin had clashed with other leaders over the conflict and resisted their attempts to get him to agree to anything that would imply Assad should step down or that Russia should tone down its support for Assad.

Obama and U.S. allies want Assad to cede power while Putin, whose rhetoric has become increasingly anti-Western since he was re-elected last year, believes that would be disastrous at a time when no clear transition plan exists.

Russia has been Assad's most powerful supporter as his forces struggle to crush an uprising in which an estimated 93,000 people have been killed since March 2011. He can also count on backing from Iran.

The United States, Turkey, and European and Gulf Arab states support the rebels, who have lost ground to Assad's troops in recent weeks.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, speaking on the summit sidelines, said earlier that Russia had refused to accept any mention of Assad's fate in the communique.

"This would be not just unacceptable for the Russian side, but we are convinced that it would be utterly wrong, harmful and would completely upset the political balance," Ryabkov said.

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A look back at the conflict that has overtaken the country.

Russia and the United States agree the warring sides should be brought together to discuss Syria's future at a peace conference possibly as soon as July. 

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the leaders’ talks on the issue had been more successful than anticipated, given the strong differences between Russia and the West.

"We have a very different outcome and much better outcome than I thought we were going to have," Harper told reporters. Before the summit, Harper had said he feared Putin's support for Syria would make a G-8 agreement difficult.

"I think this was a very significant move on the part of Mr. Putin and the Russians," he said.

The United Nations says 93,000 people have been killed in Syria and 1.6 million Syrians have fled abroad. Lebanon, the smallest of Syria's neighbors, has taken in more than half a million Syrian refugees.

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