Russia will host Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat in Moscow next week as it promotes an initiative aimed at ending the four-year conflict in Syria.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Tuesday, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry. The two men held talks together with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this week in Doha, Qatar.
Russia and Iran, the main backers of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, are stepping up their diplomatic efforts to resolve a conflict that’s killed almost a quarter million people and left about 11 million as refugees or internally displaced. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, supports the rebels seeking to bring down President Bashar al-Assad.
The Russian-Iranian effort comes on top of a flurry of diplomatic activity in the region, the latest of which was Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem’s talks in Tehran Tuesday with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and Iranian officials. Muallem then traveled to Oman, a regional go-between that played a big role in the Iranian nuclear deal struck last month.
The main Syrian opposition, long distrustful of Russia because of its support for Assad, plans to visit Moscow soon. A senior member of the coalition, Badr Jamus, told state news service Sputnik it was waiting for confirmation of the exact date and will soon choose the makeup of the delegation.
“The trigger for this activity is the Iran deal,” Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, which advises clients on risk in the Middle East, said from London.
“The Arab states have decided that using force is not going to end the various conflicts around the region and that it’s now time to engage” in talks and adapt to the new reality rather than oppose it, he added.
Iran said it will present a four-point peace plan to the United Nations after consultations with Syria and Russia.
“If the Iranians want to be a major player in the Middle East they should want a Middle East that functions,” Salem said.
Whether the heightened diplomacy will lead to a breakthrough on Syria remains to be seen.
Russia and the U.S. haven’t yet developed a common approach given the “contradictions between the various players on the ground,” Lavrov said after meeting Kerry in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday. “This is the subject of further contacts.”
Russia’s push underscores conflicting strategies among global powers trying to confront Islamic State, whose expansion into swathes of Syria and Iraq has aggravated regional conflicts. The Kremlin is pushing for a broad coalition to fight Islamic State, including Iraqi and Syrian government forces, and rejects continuing pressure from the U.S. and its allies for Assad’s ouster.
Russia, which brokered a 2013 deal disarming Syria’s chemical arsenal to forestall American airstrikes against Assad, wants to shore up its Middle Eastern ally. The U.S. has sought to cut off outside financial and other resources to Assad and supports rebels who are trying to overthrow him.