Saudi Arabia: Assad must resign or be forced from power

Dec 12, 2015, 00:10

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says his government is willing to negotiate as long as terrorist organisations are not a party to the talks.

The opposition groups called on the United Nations and global community to force the regime to take "goodwill measures" before negotiations can begin, including an end to indiscriminate bombing and sieges on rebel-held areas, the entry of humanitarian aid, the release of political detainees and a halt to executions.

A senior member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), a key Western-backed opposition group, told AP that most participants also agreed on its vision for a civil, democratic Syria and a transitional government that would respect human rights and the territorial integrity of Syria.

Saudi Arabia reportedly invited some 65 participants, including 15 from armed groups. Iran has openly criticized the decision by Saudi Arabia to hold the talks, saying they were created to harm the Vienna process.

"We recognize the hard work ahead, and remain determined to continue toward a political settlement that brings an end the conflict", he said later in a statement.

Saudi Arabia is a financial and diplomatic backer of the Syrian opposition fighting to oust al-Assad.

The official Syrian newspaper, Al-Baath, says the Saudi government has "tailored the opposition to suit its own agendas" and those of Israel, while state TV repeats Iranian condemnation of Islamist "terror groups" attending the meeting.

But Russia, the other big player in the new "International Syrian Support Group", has warned the meeting can not go ahead before the results of the Saudi dialogue are known.

The opposition was willing to enter talks with Syrian government representatives and to accept a U.N.-supervised ceasefire, the statement said.

A peace plan agreed last month by 20 nations meeting in Vienna set a January 1 deadline for the start of talks between Assad's government and opposition groups.

Some of the largest Islamist groups such as the Army of Islam are also present at the meeting, although the Islamist insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham said earlier on Thursday that it was quitting the Saudi-hosted meeting because the role of "revolutionary groups" had not been given proper attention.

Even in the firmly anti-Assad media there is scepticism about whether Russian Federation and Iran - Syria's main backers - will allow those talks to make any progress.

There were reports on Thursday night that the group had changed its mind and was going to be a part of the talks. Meanwhile, the western-backed Syrian National Coalition complains that the Kurds only fight against the "Islamic State" but not against Assad.

"There are some questions and obviously a couple of, in our judgement, kinks to be worked out", Secretary of State John Kerry said without specifying the reservations which he said would be discussed with the Saudis.

Syria's almost five-year-old conflict has left more than 250,000 dead and forced millions from their homes.

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