x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Hillary Clinton visits Saudi in push to end crackdown in Syria

The US secretary of state spoke with King Abdullah and several other high-ranking officials in the Saudi Arabian capital ahead of a Friends of Syria meeting in Turkey.

RIYADH // US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met King Abdullah on Friday in the Saudi capital, state news agency SPA said, as she kicked off a two-country tour aimed at raising pressure on the Syrian regime.

It said Defence Minister Salman bin Abdul Aziz, Foreign Minister Saudi al-Faisal and the kingdom's intelligence chief, Mogran bin Abdul Aziz, also took part in the meeting but gave no further details.

Clinton is due on Saturday to hold talks in Riyadh with ministers of Saudi Arabia's five Gulf Arab neighbours -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- before broader meetings Sunday with Arab, Turkish and Western officials in Istanbul.

The Friends of Syria meeting in Turkey follows the inaugural one Clinton attended in Tunis at the end of February -- a response to Western and Arab failure to win Russian and Chinese backing at the UN Security Council.

Aides said Clinton will discuss how to make President Bashar al-Assad comply with a new plan to end his crackdown on a pro-democracy movement, study further sanctions against his regime and consider ways to aid the opposition who will be in Istanbul.

On Thursday, Assad said he would "spare no effort" for the success of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan but warned the proposal would only work if "terrorist acts" backed by foreign powers stopped.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner described the president's remarks as "discouraging" and urged Assad to halt the violence immediately.

"It's not surprising, but it's discouraging and disappointing," Toner told reporters in Washington, adding that Syrian government forces had done nothing to comply with Annan's plan in the three days since agreeing to it.

Annan said through his spokesman on Friday he expected Assad to implement his peace plan "immediately", as monitors said fighting was raging in a number of flashpoint areas as the regime pressed its crackdown against dissent.

The plan by the former UN chief includes a commitment to stop all violence, daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefires and media access to all areas affected by the fighting.

It also calls for an inclusive Syrian-led political process, the right to demonstrate, and the release of people detained arbitrarily.

"We've seen absolutely nothing on the ground that indicates that they're adhering to its calls for Syrian artillery and heavy weaponry to go back to barracks and for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian assistance to be put in place," Toner said.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday the US delegation would discuss ways to deliver humanitarian aid to the Syrian people -- during a crackdown UN officials now estimate has cost more than 9,000 lives in a year -- and how to promote opposition unity.

Clinton said Tuesday the United States will press the disparate opposition "very hard" to present a "unified vision" in Istanbul that protects the rights of all Syrians.

Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Qatar have called for arming the opposition, which includes the Free Syrian Army, made up of Syrian military defectors.

An Arab league summit in Baghdad on Thursday rejected the option of arming any sides, and called on all parties to engage in a "serious national dialogue."