Saudi foreign minister calls for arms embargo on Syrian regime

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Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called on Monday after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for imposing an arms embargo against the Syrian regime, adding that embattled President Bashar al-Assad has lost control on all of Syria.

Prince al-Faisal stressed Saudi Arabia’s support for the Syrian people right for self-defense against the brutal crackdown of the President Assad’s forces. He said the international assistance to the Syrian opposition must not be limited to humanitarian aid, in reference for the need to arm the rebels there.

The United States will continue to work with its “friends to empower the Syrian opposition,” Kerry told reporters.

Asked about reports of arms being sent to the rebels from countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Kerry replied: “The moderate opposition has the ability to make sure that the weapons are getting to them and not to the wrong hands.”

However, he added, “there is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not fall in the wrong hands.”

The U.S. has so far refused to arm rebels locked in a two-year war against President Bashar al-Assad’s loyalists.

Prince Saud meanwhile insisted that the “Syrian people have the legitimate right to defend themselves against the regime’s killing machine.”

Several oil-rich monarchies of the GCC, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have supported the rebellion inside Syria against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a staunch ally of their regional arch-foe Iran.

Both countries have openly called for arming the rebels.
Iran's nuclear program

On the topic of Iran, Kerry said there was a limited period of time available for talks between Iran and major powers about its disputed nuclear program.

“There is a finite amount of time,” Kerry said of the talks between Tehran and a group of world powers. He was speaking at a news conference held jointly with his Saudi counterpart Prince al-Faisal.

Iran was upbeat last week after talks in the Kazakh city of Almaty with world powers about its nuclear work ended with an agreement to meet again, but Western officials said it had yet to take concrete steps to ease their fears about its atomic ambitions.

The United States, China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany offered modest sanctions relief in return for Iran curbing its most sensitive nuclear work but made clear that they expected no immediate breakthrough.

Prince Saud suggested that the Iranians did not show enough seriousness in the Almaty talks.

“We can’t be like philosophers who keep talking. We have to talk seriously and honestly and we have to put in our commitment clearly on the table,” he said.

“Negotiations cannot go on forever,” he added. “Iranians have failed to demonstrate any serious negotiations on the nuclear issue.”

Kerry, on his first trip to the region since taking over as the top U.S. diplomat, was to dine with foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the group of six Gulf monarchies including Saudi Arabia.

“We thank Kerry for America’s commitment with regard to the security of the region and we will share our concerns about the relationship with Iran and the developments in Syria,” Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled al-Khalifa said at a news conference after meeting with his five GCC counterparts.

Several oil-rich monarchies of the GCC, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have supported the rebellion inside Syria, while Iran has steadfastly backed President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Kerry arrived in Riyadh after a two-day visit to Cairo where he urged Egyptian political factions to bury their differences and unite in order to help revive the country’s sliding economy.

After Riyadh Kerry will head to Abu Dhabi on Monday and later to Qatar.

The six Gulf monarchies on Sunday criticized world inaction on Syria and Iranian “interference” in their internal affairs ahead of a visit to the Saudi capital by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The Syrian crisis has become more of a quasi-catastrophe through the unjustified killing of the Syrian people,” Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled al-Khalifa said at the opening session of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting.

Sheikh Khaled criticized “the international community’s lack of serious and rapid action” towards resolving the two-year conflict which the United Nations estimates has cost more than 70,000 lives.

GCC members Saudi Arabia and Qatar have openly taken up the cause of the Syrian revolt and called for rebel forces to be armed in their battle against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The GCC nations also slammed what they charged was Iranian interference in their internal affairs.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Oman “look forward towards better relations with Iran, but unfortunately the latter continues to interfere in their internal affairs,” Sheikh Khaled said.

“It is important for our countries to stand united against such interference” from the Shiite Islamic republic across the Gulf, he said.

Relations between Iran and the GCC have plunged to a new low, with Tehran suspected of supporting Shiite opposition protests in Bahrain against the Sunni monarchy.

Tehran is also a staunch regional ally of Assad.

Yemen, the GCC states’ restive neighbor undergoing a difficult political transition, and the Saudi missile defense shield are also likely to be discussed, a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.