Putin Receives Saudi Defense Minister, UAE Crown Prince

Reuters13.10.2015 Syria
Putin Receives Saudi Defense Minister, UAE Crown Prince

Putin Receives Saudi Defense Minister, UAE Crown Prince

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Russian President Vladimir Putin met Saudi Arabia's Defense Minister on Sunday (photo), in Moscow's biggest attempt so far to reach out to enemies of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad since Russia joined the conflict with air strikes.

Speaking after the meeting between Putin and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a son of the Saudi King, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said both countries were willing to cooperate in Syria and wanted to prevent the formation of a “terrorist caliphate”.

“On both sides, as far as I can tell, there is an understanding that today's meeting can advance our cooperation,” Lavrov said.

Russia's intervention in Syria has infuriated Assad's regional foes, including Saudi Arabia, who say Russian air strikes have been hitting rebel groups opposed to Assad, and not just the Islamic State fighters Moscow says it is targeting.

Lavrov acknowledged that Saudi Arabia had “concerns” about Russia's aims but said it was targeting only extremists, including Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra, a group linked to al Qaeda.

The Russian air strikes derailed a tentative detente between the two countries earlier this year, which aimed to smooth tensions over Syria and relations with Riyadh's regional rival Iran.

“We expressed our concerns that these operations could be regarded as an alliance between Iran and Russia. But our Russian friends explained to us that the main aim is the fight with ISIS and terrorism,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

Separately, Vladimir Putin also met on Sunday with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to discuss security in the Middle East and the conflict in Syria.

The meeting between the two is the highest-level contact between the Kremlin and a Gulf Arab official since Russia began a campaign of air strikes in Syria.

“I welcome the opportunity to talk about ... the situation in the region, particularly in light of recent terrorist acts in Turkey,” Putin told Sheikh Mohammed on the sidelines of the Russian Grand Prix in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Russia says its actions in Syria are targeted at the radical Islamist group but critics say it has been striking opposition rebels backed by the US and Gulf states.

Meanwhile, a report quoted Putin as saying Russia does not want to get involved in an inter-religious war in Syria. Putin said Russia does not see a difference between Sunni and Shiite groups, Interfax reported, citing a televised interview being aired in Russia's Far East.

Source: Reuters

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