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Saudi Arabia and Russia play down divisions over Iraq, Syria

  • A picture provided by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (R) meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) in the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah on June 21, 2014. (AFP PHOTO)

JEDDAH: Russia and Saudi Arabia Saturday stressed the importance of preserving Syrian and Iraqi territorial integrity, following talks in Jeddah. Riyadh and Moscow have opposing positions on the conflict in Syria, with Russia backing President Bashar Assad and Saudi Arabia supporting the rebels who have sought to topple him for over three years.

But Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov said they had agreed “to work together to apply the Geneva I agreement that provides for a peaceful transfer of power in Syria,” a Saudi spokesman said after the meetings.

The ministers also said they were keen to “preserve the independence and territorial integrity of Syria,” the spokesman said in comments reported by the Saudi state news agency SPA.

Lavrov and Prince Saud also highlighted the importance of “combating terrorist organizations that have exploited the crisis to find safe haven on Syrian territory.”

The spokesman made no mention of the ministers’ differences over the conflict in Syria, saying they discussed the “deterioration of the situation in Iraq and its consequences in the region.”

Sunni militants in Iraq, including jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), launched a major offensive on June 9, seizing swathes of territory.

ISIS also operates in Syria, and seeks to carve out an Islamic state straddling the border between the two states.

Lavrov and Prince Saud also said efforts should be made to “maintain the integrity of Iraq and the unity of all the components of the Iraqi people, who should benefit from equality of rights and duties.”

However, Saudi Arabia said that this goal would be difficult to achieve “without the formation of a national unity government representing all Iraqis without discrimination or exclusion.”

“Any foreign intervention at this stage would only exacerbate the crisis and deepen sectarian resentment,” the Saudi spokesman said.

The oil-rich Gulf kingdom has accused Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of leading the country to the current crisis by marginalizing its Sunni Arab minority.

Prince Saud took over the kingdom’s oversight of its Syria policy from the head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in February 2013.

The latter, who was asked by Riyadh to step down in April, was an ardent backer of funding, arming and unifying the rebels in Syria.

His last public assignment was a failed attempt in December to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop supporting Assad.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2014, on page 9.
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Summary

Russia and Saudi Arabia Saturday stressed the importance of preserving Syrian and Iraqi territorial integrity, following talks in Jeddah. Riyadh and Moscow have opposing positions on the conflict in Syria, with Russia backing President Bashar Assad and Saudi Arabia supporting the rebels who have sought to topple him for over three years.

ISIS also operates in Syria, and seeks to carve out an Islamic state straddling the border between the two states.

Prince Saud took over the kingdom's oversight of its Syria policy from the head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in February 2013 .


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