Vienna talks to test if Iran, Russia 'serious' on Syria: Saudi

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir gestures during a joint news conference with his British counterpart Philip Hammond (not seen) in Riyadh on Wednesday.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir gestures during a joint news conference with his British counterpart Philip Hammond (not seen) in Riyadh on Wednesday. PHOTO: REUTERS

RIYADH (AFP) - International talks in Vienna this week will test whether Russia and Iran are "serious" about a political solution to the war in Syria, the Saudi foreign minister said Wednesday.

"If they're serious we will know, and if they're not serious we will also know and stop wasting time with them," Adel al-Jubeir said at a news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

The two-day talks beginning Thursday will "test the intentions of the Syrians and the Russians", focusing primarily on the future of President Bashar al-Assad, Jubeir said.

Hammond said the meetings will be a chance to see if it is possible to "bridge the gap" between Iran and Russia on one side, and other countries on the role of Assad.

While Russia and Iran think Assad should be able to stand for re-election, so that the Syrian people can decide on his future, Hammond said all others agree that Assad has "too much blood on his hands" and should go.

Jubeir said the Saudi position had not changed.

"There has to be certainty that Bashar al-Assad will leave" once a transitional council of opposition and government figures has been set up, Jubeir said.

If common ground can be found on Assad's departure, the Vienna talks would be the first step to a political solution for the war which has killed more than 250,000 people.

"If we can't find a way to bridge the gap on transitional government we will have to find a different way to move the situation forward," Hammond said.

He earlier met Saudi King Salman and other leading members of the royal family on the first day of a Gulf tour focused on regional security.

Iran confirmed that its Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will join his counterparts from Russia, the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia at the talks.

Along with Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Lebanon and the European Union all said they would take part, and Britain's Foreign Office said the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Italy would also attend.

The inclusion of Iran marks a crucial shift after Teheran was excluded from earlier talks, mainly because of opposition from Washington and Riyadh.

The Vienna discussions are expected to be the first time all major international players linked to the nearly five-year war will participate.

Riyadh's regional rival Iran has sent military advisers and financial aid to help Assad, while Russia has launched air strikes in Syria targeting the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) group and other "terrorists".

The United States and its allies say Russian warplanes are mainly hitting non-extremist rebels battling Assad.