A rebel fighter calls on his comrades during clashes with regime forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on October 31, 2014. AFP PHOTO/KARAM AL-MASRI
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Saudi Arabia's effort to unite Syrian rebels in Riyadh next week will be a big test of its regional ambitions after years of bickering between opposition groups and serious misgivings about the initiative among major powers with a stake in the war.Since King Salman took power in January, Riyadh has tried to position itself as leader of the Sunni Muslim world, most of whom want to see Syrian President Bashar Assad toppled and the influence of his ally, Iran, curbed.However, with Iran decrying the meeting as harmful to peace prospects, Turkey alarmed by the likely presence of Kurds, and Western countries concerned by the role that Islamists will play, Saudi Arabia may struggle to achieve that.Now Riyadh wants to focus on forging from the Syrian opposition a body that can function as a serious interlocutor, and dismiss the argument made by Assad, Iran and Russia that it is dominated by militants.According to Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security expert with close ties to Riyadh's Interior Ministry, it was because of Russia that Riyadh agreed to host the meeting, working to deliver a group that can negotiate opposite Assad.
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