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Saudis will stop backing Syrian rebels if Iran withdraws: Reports

Sources tell Saudi-owned al-Hayat the 'miracle meeting' saw Saudi Arabia call for Iranian withdrawal in return for cutting ties with opposition
Saudi Arabia reportedly said it is willing to act to stop the bloodshed in Syria (AFP)

Saudi Arabia is prepared to “do anything to stop the bloodshed in Syria,” saying it will give up its support for the opposition in return for an Iranian withdrawal, according to media reports.

The Saudi-owned daily al-Hayat on Saturday quoted “high-level Saudi sources” as saying that Riyadh believes such a bilateral withdrawal could pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections overseen by the United Nations.

The comments were reportedly made during a meeting in Riyadh on 7 July that included Ali Mamlouk, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence chief.

The source who spoke to al-Hayat, who declined to be named, dubbed the talks a “miracle meeting,” coming less than three weeks after Saudi Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman flew to St Petersburg to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia, which backs Iran in supporting Assad, has been at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia, which along with Gulf allies backs the Syrian opposition, for years.

However, the surprise trip in June was widely seen to signal a shift in relations between Moscow and Riyadh.

In the wake of the talks, Tariq al-Shammari, a Saudi analyst and president of the Council of Gulf International Relations, told the Associated Press that following the deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, Saudi Arabia is moving to improve ties with Russia, a strong ally of Iran.

According to Saturday’s report, Saudi Arabia is demanding a complete withdrawal of Iran and the militia groups it backs, most notably Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, in return for stopping its support for anti-Assad fighters in Syria.

The source told al-Hayat that Saudi Arabia had stressed that “Sunni terrorism has no supporting state,” accusing Iran on the other hand of being akin to a state sponsor of “Shia terrorism in Syria”.

Despite the ongoing enmity between Riyadh and Tehran, its regional counterweight and biggest foe, Saturday’s reported comments could signal a major policy shift for Saudi Arabia, which has always been opposed to any solution that could see Assad remain in power.

However, within Saudi Arabia a political solution would be an acceptable end to the civil war, now in its fifth year - a November 2014 poll of eight Middle Eastern countries by Zogby Research Services found that only in the kingdom did a majority of respondents say they support such an initiative.