Putin and Saudi King Salman discuss Syria crisis

Putin and Saudi King Salman discuss Syria crisis
6 min read
27 October, 2015
Russian President Putin spoke to king Salman of Saudi Arabia to discuss the war in Syria as reports emerged of visits by FSA delegates to Moscow.
Russian-Saudi relations have been strained by Moscow's intervention abd support for Syrian president Assad [Getty]
Russian President Vladimir Putin held phone talks Monday with King Salman of Saudi Arabia focused on seeking a solution to the Syria crisis, the Kremlin said.

The call was a Saudi initiative, the Kremlin added in a statement.

The two exchanged views on "all questions associated with resolving the Syrian crisis, including four-way talks" between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US, Turkish and Saudi counterparts, it said.

The four foreign ministers met in Vienna last Friday but failed to make any major breakthrough on how to end the conflict, with the sides sharply at odds on Assad's future.

Oman's foreign minister and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met in Damascus Monday and discussed ideas that have been put forward to address the Syrian crisis, the Syrian state news agency SANA said.

The call was a Saudi initiative, the Kremlin added in a statement

Oman sees itself as a conciliator in a volatile region and has a history of constructive relations with Syria's close ally, Iran.

Diplomats have said it could play the role of mediator between Syria and Assad's adversaries, which include the United States and other Gulf states.

Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi and Assad discussed regional and international ideas that have been put forward to address the Syrian war, SANA said.

Oman has received parties from both sides of the war in recent weeks. Syria's foreign minister traveled to Oman to meet Alawi in August and the head of the main Western-backed Syrian political opposition met with Alawi in Muscat earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the US State Department said that the United States was talking to Russia and other powers about a new round of international discussions on the crisis in Syria.

But no date or guest list has been confirmed for the talks, and the US State Department admitted that the situation was complex and that talks may drag on.

"We need a plan for a political transition that can work," spokesman John Kirby said. "But it's not as if we're approaching this without a sense of urgency."

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone with Lavrov about plans for a broader dialogue to bring an end to the civil war.

The United States is talking to Russia and other powers about a new round of international discussions on Syria

"They talked about the next round of discussions and what each of them had in terms of expectations for that meeting and future meetings," Kirby said.

Neither Moscow nor Washington have publicly given a date or a location for the next round of discussions, which could come as early as Friday of this week.

France is to convene separate talks in Paris Tuesday, but the State Department could not immediately confirm whether any U.S. envoy would attend.

Free Syrian Army delegates 'visited Moscow'

Meanwhile, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said Monday delegations from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army had visited Moscow several times, Russian news agencies reported.

Russian Foreign Ministry officials said delegations from the Free Syrian Army visited Moscow several times

Foreign Ministry official Mikhail Bogdanov, answering a question on whether the Free Syrian Army group had visited Moscow last week, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying: "Yes, they were here, including this [week] too.

However, representatives of four factions fighting under the FSA banner denied to Reuters on Tuesday the reports that such visits had taken place.

"This talk is not correct," said Ahmed al-Seoud, head of the FSA-affiliated 13th Division group, which operates in areas of western Syria being attacked by Russian warplanes.

The spokesman for Alwiyat Seif al-Sham, an FSA group operating in southern Syria, said: "Nothing of this sort happened on our part as FSA. It is impossible for us to accept going to Moscow, and to have dialogue with it. We don't want their help."

"We contacted our friends in other areas and nobody went," added the spokesman, Abu Ghiath al-Shami.

Earlier Monday, an alliance of FSA-related insurgent groups said it was skeptical about a Russian proposal to help rebels, and that Moscow must stop bombing rebels and civilians and withdraw its support for President Bashar al-Assad.

Representatives of the FSA denied the reports that such visits had taken place

The comments were aired days after Assad met Putin in Moscow to discuss a joint military campaign against Islamist militants in Syria.

Russia has shifted its position regarding FSA rebels, saying Saturday that Russia's air force would be ready to help the insurgents, if it knew where they were.

"Their words are not like their actions. How can we talk to them while they are hitting us?" Issam al-Rayyes, spokesman for the Southern Front of the FSA, said.

Russian warplanes have bombed a number of FSA-affiliated groups in northern areas of Syria since intervening in the war on the side of Assad.

Rayyes added that there was no contact between the insurgent groups and the Russians, clarifying an earlier remark to the BBC that the rebels had not turned down a Russian offer. "There is no offer, there is no communication," Rayyes said.

"We don't need the help now, they should stop attacking our bases and then we can talk about future cooperation," Rayyes said in his earlier BBC interview.

His comments echo the views of other Syrian rebels toward the Russian statement, with Assad's opponents suspicious that Moscow is working purely to shore up its ally.

The FSA is a loose alliance of groups, some of which have received military aid from Assad's foreign enemies. They are often led by former Syrian army officers and espouse a nationalist vision for the country.

Russian strikes 'leading killer of civilians'

Russia says the main aim of its military efforts, namely its air support for Assad's forces, is to combat terrorism.

Western powers, however, accuse Moscow only of trying to keep its longtime ally Assad in power and secure its interests, including a Naval facility.

Russia has shifted its position on FSA rebels, saying its air force would be ready to help the insurgents

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said last week that Russia airstrikes had killed at least 446 people, more than a third of them civilians.

The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, Monday said indiscriminate Russian aerial attacks are now the leading killer of civilians.

Najib Ghadbian, the coalition's U.N. representative, said Russia's intervention in Syria is facilitating Assad's "war on civilians" and elimination of moderate opposition forces -- contrary to Moscow's claim that its campaign is aimed at countering "terrorist extremist groups."

The Kremlin Monday insisted Russian forces had been carefully avoiding residential areas.

"Our military officers have said many times that terrorists ... often hide in residential areas," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"In this case [the military] makes a choice not to hit residential neighborhoods."