Saudis signal backing for Syria talks despite row with Iran

Saudis signal backing for Syria talks despite row with Iran

Saudi Arabia signaled on Tuesday its breach in relations with Iran would not affect talks on Syria, another round of which is scheduled in Geneva this month, Reuters reported.

Riyadh and Tehran have attended previous talks and support opposing sides in the war. There is concern the rift between them could set back diplomatic efforts to bring peace.

Speaking after talks in Riyadh with U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir was quoted as saying by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA):

"The recent tensions that impacted the region negatively will not affect ... the operations that the United Nations carries out alongside the international community to achieve a political solution in Geneva soon."

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Sudan broke all ties with Iran, and the United Arab Emirates downgraded its relations on Monday after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters. Kuwait recalled its ambassador to Iran on Tuesday.

Restating the kingdom's position on Syria, Jubeir said Riyadh sought a solution based on the Geneva 1 communique, a 2012 document setting out guidelines for a path to peace including a transitional governing authority, SPA said.

He reiterated President Bashar Al Assad would have no role in the future of Syria, SPA said.

The United Nations has set a target date of Jan. 25 for the talks. But Damascus has dismissed a new opposition body formed to oversee negotiations, and the opposition wants to see confidence-building steps from President Bashar al-Assad, a demand that could complicate efforts to start talks.

De Mistura, speaking after he met Jubeir and the Syrian opposition in Riyadh, said there was a clear determination on the Saudi side that current regional tensions would not have a negative impact on the momentum of the talks and on the continuation of the political process in Geneva.

De Mistura did not characterize the position of the Syrian opposition at the meeting, but said: "We cannot afford to lose this momentum despite what is going on in the region."

Syria's opposition has said it wants to see confidence-building steps from Damascus including a prisoner release, a halt to bombardments of towns and cities, and the lifting of blockades imposed by the government on rebel-held areas.

Britain's Special Representative for Syria on Tuesday urged the government to lift sieges as a step towards ending the nearly five-year-old conflict.

"Starving civilians is an inhuman tactic used by the Assad regime and their allies," Gareth Bayley said in a statement, referring to a months-long blockade in the town of Madaya, near Damascus.

"Sieges must be lifted to save civilian lives and to bring Syria closer to peace ... this human tragedy underscores the need for an end to this conflict."

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said many of Madaya's 40,000 residents are starving.

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