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Opposition ready for Assad talks, but tyrant ‘must quit as transition begins’

RIYADH: Syria’s main opposition groups agreed at unprecedented talks Thursday to negotiate with President Bashar Assad’s regime but insisted he must step down at the start of a political transition.
“The participants are ready to negotiate with representatives of the Syrian regime based on the Geneva 1 communique... within a specific time-frame that would be agreed on with the UN,” said a statement issued after two days of talks between a range of armed and political opposition groups.
But the opposition groups insisted that “Assad and his aides quit power with the start of the transition period” set out last month in Vienna by top diplomats from 17 countries.
The opposition groups in Riyadh also called on the United Nations and international community “to force the Syrian regime to implement goodwill measures before the negotiation process begins.”
The measures include the ending of regime sieges on towns and districts to allow the entry of humanitarian aid, a halt to executions, the release of political detainees and the creation of conditions to allow for the return of refugees. The regime should also end “the forced displacement” of citizens and the dropping of “barrel bombs on civilian gatherings,” it said.
Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said: “Our support to Syrian brothers continues and Assad is left with two choices: Either he leaves power as a result of negotiations which would be the most simple and fastest option for everyone involved or he leaves power as a result of continued fighting as the Syrian people refuse to keep him in office.”
Al-Jubeir lambasted the meddling of Iran in the affairs of the Gulf countries, saying that “Iran is playing a negative role in most regional issues.” He disclosed that he met only for “a few minutes” with his Iranian counterpart in Vienna last month on the sidelines of a meeting to discuss ways to end Syrian war, in which Iran is backing the militants.
He said that the Kingdom hopes for better relations with Iran, but added that Tehran’s intransigent policies have hindered diplomatic ties and hampered all peace efforts.
Under the agreement, opposition groups have formed a “supreme committee for negotiations” based in Riyadh which will act as a reference for their negotiating team, whose members the body itself will choose.
Suhair Atassi, a member of the National Coalition, the main opposition grouping, told AFP that the agreement represented “a unified vision for the settlement process.”
The closed-door meeting called for consideration of the future course of action in Syria, preserving its territorial integrity and sovereignty, ultimately paving the way toward a civilian, democratic government, according to a delegate at the talks that began on Tuesday. The Gulf leaders who had assembled here for 36th summit backed the results ensuring the unity of the Syrian opposition.
US Secretary of State John Kerry also lent his support to the significant progress.
“Saudi-led talks to unite Syria’s opposition groups made progress and the meeting with opposition groups appears to be very constructive at this point. I think everybody is moving toward a rapid political process,” Kerry said in Paris.
According to Ahmad Soner of the National Coalition, the groups agreed on eight fundamental points for the future in order to preserve Syrian integrity and sovereignty with a democratic government.

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