Saudi hails Syrian opposition meet ‘breakthrough’

France also welcomed the Syrian opposition’s agreement to form a unified delegation for an upcoming negotiation with Assad’s regime

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Saudi Arabia described a meeting aimed at unifying Syria’s opposition groups in the capital Riyadh to form a single delegation for upcoming negotiations as a “breakthrough,” the state-owned Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday.

France on Friday also welcomed the Syrian opposition’s agreement to form a delegation to negotiate with the Syrian regime, describing the move as a “major step” towards solving the conflict in their country.

“France welcomes the conference of the Syrian opposition that was recently concluded by adopting a common program, which reaffirms commitment in a united, free and democratic Syria which respects rights of all citizens,” French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Romain Nadal told a press briefing.

Previously, Saudi King Salman reiterated Riyadh’s keenness to bring about security, stability and justice to Syria.

“I would like to tell you that Syria is dear to us and our relations with Syria are historical and the Syrian and welfare of the Syrian brethren is important to us,” the king told the opposition leaders when they met late Thursday.

The opposition delegation is due to a New York conference in Vienna grouping Syria’s warring sides will instead take place on Dec. 18.

The Riyadh meeting and the upcoming conference come after an international agreement to launch talks between the government and opposition on Jan. 1.

In response, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he will not join negotiations and that he has the majority backing of Syrians, in an interview transcript published by state media on Friday.

Asked whether he would be willing to join negotiations called for by world powers by Jan. 1, he said: “They want the Syrian government to negotiate with terrorists, something I don’t think anyone would accept in any country.”

Russia slams talks

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that the meeting on Thursday did not represent all opposition groups from the country.

“We cannot accept the attempt by the group which met in Riyadh to assign itself the right to speak on behalf of the entire Syrian opposition,” the ministry said in a statement.

The talks in Riyadh called for an all-inclusive, democratic Syria and said Moscow’s regional ally Assad should leave power at the start of a transitional period.

Nusra rejects outcome

Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate on Saturday also rejected the outcome of the Saudi-hosted conference, branding it a “plot.”

“It is a plot, not a conference. Such... gatherings must be foiled,” Al-Nusra chief Abu Mohamed al-Jolani said in an interview with Orient News, a Dubai-based Syrian opposition television channel monitored in Beirut.

(With Reuters, AFP)