Saudi spy chief in new meeting with Putin on Syria

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (right) and Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan (left) meet in Novo-Ogaryovo Putin's residence outside Moscow on Wednesday, Dec 4, 2013. Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief has held a new me
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (right) and Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan (left) meet in Novo-Ogaryovo Putin's residence outside Moscow on Wednesday, Dec 4, 2013. Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief has held a new meeting in Russia with Mr Putin on the Syrian conflict, the second closed-door encounter this year between the Russian leader and the key regional powerbroker. -- PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief has held a new meeting in Russia with President Vladimir Putin on the Syrian conflict, the second closed-door encounter this year between the Russian leader and the key regional powerbroker.

The Kremlin said in a statement late Tuesday that Prince Bandar bin Sultan discussed with Putin at the president's suburban Moscow residence the situation in the Middle East and preparations for a Syria peace conference planned in January.

"There was a detailed exchange of views on the situation around Syria, including in the context of preparations for the Geneva II conference," the Kremlin said, without giving further details.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had also met Prince Bandar in Moscow to discuss the Syria peace conference.

"The emphasis was placed on the need to ensure that regional problems are solved on the basis of respect of the UN Charter and principles of international law," the Russian foreign ministry said.

The Syria conflict has further strained already testy relations between Moscow and Riyadh, with Russia refusing to drop its cooperation with the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Saudi Arabia openly backing the rebels.

Some analysts have seen Saudi Arabia's shock decision to reject a seat on the UN Security Council as prompted by its frustration with the use by Russia of its veto to block sanctions against Assad.

Bandar last met Putin in a meeting on July 31 whose circumstances remain shrouded in mystery but which caused huge interest in the Arab world.

Diplomats in the Middle East have said that Putin rejected a proposal from Prince Bandar for Moscow to abandon its support for Assad in exchange for a huge arms order from Riyadh worth US$15 billion (S$19 billion). Putin rejected the proposals, according to the same sources.

However the Kremlin later denied that the two men had discussed military cooperation or any deals.

Widely regarded as among the most influential powerbrokers in the Middle East, Prince Bandar is the son of the late crown prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who died in 2011.