Lebanon News

Report: Bandar asked Putin to delay Geneva II conference

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at his meeting with Constitutional Court judges in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Metzel, Presidential Press Service)

Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend the date of Geneva II peace conference on Syria, scheduled for Jan. 22, after their talks on the Syrian war failed to reach a final conclusion, according to a diplomatic report received by Lebanese officials.

Bandar met Putin near Moscow earlier this month and discussed the war in Syria and last month’s agreement between Iran and Western powers on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Bandar offered Putin Saudi assistance in fighting radical Islamists and preventing the expansion of their influence inside the Syrian opposition or in the ongoing battles with the regular Syrian Army in exchange for Russia’s help in removing President Bashar Assad from power in the future, the report said.

It added that Bandar also offered the Russian president bilateral cooperation between the two countries aimed at achieving this goal.

Putin did not give a final answer, renewing Moscow’s position on the need to ensure the main components for the convening of Geneva II conference, the report said.

At this point, Bandar cited the Saudi conditions for the success of the Geneva II conference, at the forefront of which is Iran’s nonparticipation in the peace talks in order to prevent Tehran from exploiting its nuclear agreement with the West to bolster its position in support of the Syrian regime, the report said.

The second Saudi condition, according to the report, is to extend the period for preparations for the Geneva II conference because Saudi Arabia believes that it can improve its negotiating position with the Syrian regime through military successes by the armed factions it directly supports, which are fighting on two fronts: The Syrian Army on the one hand, and hard-line jihadists from the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on the other.

Third, Bandar stressed that the actual translation of the Geneva I conference means the setting up of a transitional authority with full executive powers and therefore, the Geneva II conference should uphold this idea, contrary to conditions set by the Syrian leadership that it will not go to Geneva II to transfer power, the report said.

Putin, according to the report, faced Bandar with reservations over the Saudi terms, particularly the setting up of a transitional authority.

However, despite the differences, there were points of convergence between the Russian and Saudi sides: First, on confronting the terrorist movements in Syria and the region; second, on giving priority to a political solution to the Syria crisis; and third, on following up dialogue between Russia and Saudi Arabia through high-level officials or the creation of relevant committees by the two countries, the report said.

Diplomatic sources said that despite the agreement among the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain – Riyadh was upset with some GCC states that expressed the desire to open channels of dialogue with Iran for political, security and economic purposes, especially since the Islamic Republic is implicitly recognized as the region’s policeman in coordination with some regional states.

Meanwhile, a high-ranking political source said that international care for Lebanon had reached its peak under the slogan of “helping Lebanon at the political, security and economic levels,” based on the decisions of the “International Support Group for Lebanon” approved during a meeting in New York in September.

The source said signs of this support would be manifested by organizing conferences in support of Lebanon in more than one Western state, with Italy being the first to host one of these conferences.

After talks with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said Italy would host an international conference to support the Lebanese Army next year.

The source said that the international community was concerned over the 8-month-old Cabinet deadlock and was pressing for the formation of a new government before the presidential election, scheduled in May 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 16, 2013, on page 3.




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