Saudi Arabia, UAE back Syria opposition vote to join peace talks

Both Gulf states emphasize that Geneva II must aim to put an end to the Syrian people’s sufferings

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Saudi Arabia and the UAE gave their backing Sunday to a decision by Syria’s main opposition to join peace talks in Switzerland, which both Gulf States said must lead to regime overthrow.

The so-called Geneva II meeting starting on Wednesday aims to set up a transitional government to end an almost three-year war estimated to have killed more than 130,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

“In support of the rights of the Syrian people to decide their own future and defend themselves against the Syrian regime’s crimes,” Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “welcome the decision by the National Coalition to take part in Geneva II,” they said a joint statement.

Both Gulf states however “affirm at the same time that Geneva II must aim to put an end to the Syrian people’s sufferings through creating a real political change in which (President Bashar al-Assad’s) regime will have no role.”

The statement was published by state news agency WAM after Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal met United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan and its Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

After weeks of hesitation and threats to boycott the talks, the deeply divided Syrian National Coalition said it will go to Switzerland, with the sole aim of toppling President Bashar al-Assad.

Regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and other Arab states of the Gulf have repeatedly voiced support for rebels fighting Assad’s regime.

Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan told Russian President Vladimir Putin last month that Riyadh would send a delegation to the meeting, but only on the condition the opposition is represented by the National Coalition.