Lavrov statement comes after Riyadh conference for reformed High Negotiations Committee


Russia is cooperating with Saudi Arabia over its vision of Syria’s opposition, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (pictured) said on Friday.

Lavrov’s comments were an endorsement of this week’s Riyadh meeting with both opposition groups and Russian-backed factions, as well as of a changing relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has been one of the main backers of the opposition and rebels throughout the 80-month Syrian conflict.

Lavrov spoke after a meeting in Moscow with UN special Staffan de Mistura, ahead of a the renewal of UN-sponsored talks in Geneva next week.

De Mistura said a new Syrian constitution will be one of the main items on the agenda in Geneva.

On Thursday, more than 140 participants elected 50 members to a reformed High Negotiations Committee, despite the reservations of many opposition representatives including officials of the original HNC, formed in Riyadh in December 2015.

The umbrella Syrian National Coalition and the HNC expressed concern that the gathering would retreat from the insistence on Bashar al-Assad’s departure and objected to the inclusion of the “Moscow group” and “Cairo group”, smaller factions favored by Russia. The head of the HNC, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, and other senior members resigned.

However, the conference reached agreement as it maintained that a political transition “cannot happen without the departure of Bashar al Assad and his clique at the start of the interim period”. It also called for the full withdrawal of the Iranian-led foreign militias and Hezbollah, who have propped up the Assad regime’s military since 2012, and focused on the bombing of civilian areas, protracted sieges, and mass detentions of the regime.

Nasr Hariri was named as the new head of the HNC. A former member of the People’s Council of Syria from Daraa, resigning over the killing of protesters in spring 2011, he joined the Syrian National Coalition in 2013, becoming a secretary-general two years later. He has been involved in the political talks in the Kazakh capital Astana since they started in January.

Lavrov made no reported comment on the future of Assad, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, or on the status of Iranian and Iranian-commanded foreign forces.

Civilians in southern Syria create a large human hashtag “We Do Not Trust Russia’s Intentions” and burn Russian flags:

Turkey: Trump Withdraws US Backing of Kurdish Militia YPG

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the US has withdrawn support of the Kurdish militia YPG, during a phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and American counterpart Donald Trump on Friday.

Cavusoglu said Trump promised “not provide weapons to the YPG”, the leading element in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who have taken territory from the Islamic State — including cities such as Raqqa and Manbij — from the Islamic State in northern and eastern Syria.

Cavusoglu said Trump twice made the commitment to suspend arms shipments.

Turkey considers the YPG and its political umbrella, the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD), to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, and has been waging a protracted campaign for the withdrawal of US support.

The White House did not mention any specific commitment over the PYD but alluded to a possible change in the US approach:

Consistent with our previous policy, President Trump also informed President Erdoğan of pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria, now that the battle of Raqqa is complete and we are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that [the Islamic State] cannot return.

A “senior administration official” later told The Wall Street Journal that the US is preparing to “wind up” its direct support for Kurdish forces in Syria.

Some American officials have privately told EA of their expectation that the US, under pressure from both Russia and Turkey, will step away from the SDF. However, two US officials said on Friday that the Pentagon is likely to announce that there are about 2,000 US troops in Syria, acknowledging that it has significantly under-reported the extent of American involvement.

The US Government has previously said that about 500 US personnel are inside the country, working with the SDF.

Cavusoglu told reporters on Saturday, “We want to see Trump’s promise on not giving arms to YPG terror group being implemented. A country like the U.S. shouldn’t have any business with terror groups.”