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Saudi FM urges Assad departure as part of transition in Syria

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir ©AFP

The Saudi foreign minister has insisted again that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must quickly step down from power as part of a political transition in the violence-torn country.

Riyadh’s position on Assad “has not changed” and the Syrian leader “should leave, as soon as the transition period starts,” Adel al-Jubeir told journalists upon his arrival in Moscow on Thursday.

Jubeir is in Moscow to participate in a ministerial meeting between the representatives of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and Russia.

During his visit, Jubeir also met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss the conflict in Syria.

The Saudi official voiced opposition to Moscow’s stance that those attending Geneva peace talks "must truly represent" the Syrian nation.

“I would also like to say that we disagree with the position of Russia on the issue of members of the delegation at the Syrian talks.

"We believe that the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people at the talks should be the Riyadh Group,” said Jubeir, referring to the Saudi-based opposition, called the High Negotiations Committee (HNC).

Lavrov, for his part, underscored that “the fate of Syria should only be determined by the Syrian people,” stressing that elections should take place “under strict and close international control.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shakes hands with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in a meeting in Moscow on May 26.

On Thursday, UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said there are no plans to resume peace talks over the next two or three weeks.

De Mistura told a closed UN Security Council session that more progress was required to strengthen a ceasefire in Syria and deliver humanitarian aid before the negotiations can resume.

The talks began in Geneva on April 13 but came to an immediate halt after the Saudi-backed opposition walked out of the discussions and declared a "new war" on the Syrian government. 

Iran-Saudi tensions

During the Thursday meeting with Jubeir, the Russian foreign minister also expressed Moscow’s readiness to help resolve “specific problems” in ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Moscow enjoys “good ties” with both sides, said, Lavrov, adding, “We will be ready to use these good relations in order to help create the conditions for a specific conversation on normalization, which can be attained only through direct dialogue of the two sides.”

He further slammed as “unacceptable” certain attempts to portray disagreements between Iran and the kingdom as a rift in the Muslim world.

“We know about the existing disagreements that are purely specific in nature, but we also know about the very dangerous attempts to present these disagreements as a reflection of a split in the Muslim world,” Lavrov said.

He added that Moscow believes “such attempts to provoke the situation in this sphere are unacceptable. It is in the interests of Islam to ensure unity of all its branches.”

Ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been tense since Tehran strongly condemned of the execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in January.

Riyadh later severed diplomatic relations with Tehran following attacks on two vacant Saudi missions in Iran amid a series of angry demonstrations against Nimr’s killing.

Some Saudi allies, including Bahrain, took Riyadh’s lead to sever relations with Iran.

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