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As Syria talks near, Kerry works with Saudi allies

Saturday, Mar 12, 2016,11:15 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

King Khalid Military City | Secretary of State John Kerry met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his most senior ministers as Washington and its Arab allies prepared new Syrian peace talks. The United Nations hopes to host indirect talks between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and rebel leaders in Geneva on Monday, to reinforce a tentative ceasefire on the ground.

The United States and Saudi Arabia are two of the chief sponsors of the opposition side in the almost five-year-old civil war, and will be key to getting them to the table. I think we need to talk about Syria, Kerry said, as he sat down with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef and senior Saudi officials after his reception with King Salman.

Top Saudi officials, including Defence Minister Mohammad Bin Salman al-Saud and Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, had gathered at a military base after a major exercise. Reporters were ushered out as talks got underway, but US officials had said they would focus on Syria and the Yemen, where Saudi forces are bombing Shiite rebels.

Kerry was also due to meet his Emirati counterpart Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan at the King Khalid Military City base before flying to Paris on Saturday. There he was to meet his French, British, German and Italian opposite numbers, as the Western allies try to coordinate their efforts to push for and end to the war. Earlier yesterday, UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura had called for Syrians to hold elections within 18 months.

But in a worrying development ahead of the negotiations, government raids reportedly killed five civilians in Syria’s second city, Aleppo, despite a ceasefire. The truce has prompted a nearly two-week lull in fighting between the Russian-backed regime and non-jihadist rebels since coming into force on February 27.