Riyadh rejects cooperation with Assad regime
LONDON - Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir insisted there will be no cooperation with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Jubeir’s comments came after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, which is one of the Syrian regime’s last remaining backers.
The Russian government has called for coordination between the Syrian government and members of an international coalition, including Saudi Arabia, to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) extremist group, which controls significant territories in Syria and Iraq.
“As for a coalition in which Saudi Arabia would participate with the government of Syria, then we need to exclude that. It is not part of our plans,” Jubeir said in comments translated into Russian.
“Our position has not changed… There is no place for Assad in the future of Syria.”
“We think that Bashar Assad is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he added.
The Putin government has been a staunch supporter of the Assad regime, while Saudi Arabia has backed elements of the insurgency against him. The kingdom insists Assad must step down to end the conflict which emerged following “Arab spring”-inspired protests and has so far claimed more than 240,000 lives.
The international anti-ISIS coalition was proposed by the Russians in June and was slated to include Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and the Syrian regime’s army.
The meeting in Moscow was preceded by an August 3rd meeting in Qatar between Lavrov, Jubeir and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
At a news conference following the talks, Lavrov said “the issue is not related to the formation of a traditional coalition under a higher commander and armed forces that obey him” but rather through “coordinating the movements of those who fight the terrorists in the first place”.
He emphasised that “their first mission is to fight the terrorist threat and put aside the settling of their accounts”.
The Russian minister added that unlike ISIS, “Bashar Assad does not threaten any neighbouring country” and called on the international community to prioritise fighting ISIS over Assad. For his part, Jubeir said Assad had played a role in ISIS’s emergence because he pointed “his weapons against his people and not against” the Islamic State, which makes Assad a part of the problem and not the solution.
“The exit of President Assad is part of these differences,” Lavrov said. He said Moscow would have separate talks with Syrian opposition representatives including the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD).
However, Riyadh and Moscow have agreed to facilitate talks between the Syrian government and representatives of all Syrian opposition groups concerning the country’s future.
“We agreed to continue practical steps, we agreed on them, which are aimed at preparing the optimal conditions for a renewal of dialogue between the [Syrian] government and all the Syrian opposition,” Lavrov said.
Syria’s opposition National Coalition and a second opposition group and the head of the Syrian Kurdish PYD are all expected in Moscow soon.
But the likelihood of the Putin government convincing the National Coalition, the main opposition political body, to work with Assad is very slim. Ahead of the meetings, coalition member Hisham Marwah rejected any alliance involving Assad.
“Confronting terrorism requires a transitional body that brings together all Syrians,” Marwah said. “It is clear that Assad and the criminals around him have no place in this phase or in the future of Syria.”
The group is sending a delegation headed by its president, Khaled Khoja, for its first talks in Moscow since February 2014.
Commenting on the latest developments, Syrian opposition figure Mahmoud al-Hamza, who is based in Moscow and a member of the Syrian National Council, said Russia has taken the first step on the road to abandoning Assad but will only accept Assad’s removal through a political process that guarantees Russia’s interests in Syria.
Russian diplomacy is playing the Syrian card in the same way that it has used the country for years, he added.
“I think that Moscow is now aware that Russia is cut off not just from Europe but also from the Arabs due to its position on the Syrian regime. While the situation on the ground indicates that Assad will not be able to survive for a long period of time amid the collapse of his forces,” Hamza said.