France, Saudi hope Syria talks lead to Geneva resumption

by Reuters
Tuesday, 24 January 2017 16:05 GMT

(Recasts, adds details, quotes, background)

By Katie Paul

RIYADH, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia and France, both backers of Syrian rebels, said on Tuesday they hoped Syrian truce talks in Astana would lead to a resumption of U.N.-led peace efforts in Geneva and more aid to civilians suffering from five years of war.

In a joint news conference, foreign ministers Jean-Marc Ayrault of France and Adel al-Jubeir of Saudi Arabia also suggested that cooperation with new U.S. President Donald Trump would be important on a range of Middle East issues.

Iran, Russia and Turkey ended truce talks in Kazakhstan on Tuesday with the announcement of a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure full compliance with a shaky truce between Syrian warring parties.

Saudi Arabia did not take part in the Astana meetings, though a French envoy attended informally with other Western counterparts. The talks in Astana come after years of intermittent talks in Geneva failed to resolve the conflict.

"We wish for the success of today's meeting. But I don't know if we're going to reach a real agreement. We hope for negotiations to resume in Geneva," Ayrault said, according to an interpreter's translation of his remarks.

The next round of Geneva talks, led by the United Nations, will be held on Feb. 8. The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, took part in the Astana talks.

Saudi Arabia, one of the chief backers of the rebels, has not indicated whether it will continue sending them military support since they were routed from their largest stronghold, Syria's second city of Aleppo, in December.

The U.S. ambassador to Khazakstan represented Washington at the talks.

Jubeir said he was optimistic about the possibilities of regional powers working with the Trump administration. He expressed confidence in Trump's cabinet nominees, including national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom he described as "an American patriot."

Flynn ruffled feathers with divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail, such as a Twitter comment that "Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL."

Ayrault was more circumspect about the likelihood of cooperation with Trump, and noted that uncertainties existed about the new administration's policies.

He reiterated support for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, suggesting a conflict with Trump's plan to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and raised questions about U.S. leadership on trade and climate change.

"The U.S. is a powerful country. It's a superpower. And it carries responsibilities to the world. Even if it is defending the interests of its people, it cannot defend its people's interests without a multilateral approach," Ayrault said. (Reporting by Katie Paul; Writing by William Maclean and Tom Finn; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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