Abdel Bari Atwan
Last weekend, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov received his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir in Moscow for talks about the Syrian crisis. Al-Jubeir clarified the current Saudi stance which is that President Assad is part of the solution rather than the problem. The most vigorous debate within the international community these days is how to keep the Syrian state intact in order to combat Islamic State (IS). For Russia it means keeping Assad in place at least until the immediate danger is passed.
Al-Jubeir declared that Assad had enabled the rise of IS and said that a war against IS was already under way in Syria and Iraq and that the kingdom was part of it. He was referring to Saudi air strikes inside Syria.
Lavrov countered that the IS constitutes such a major threat to Syria, Saudi Arabia and other States in the region that Syria’s internal differences should be put aside in order to combat IS: ‘The process of settling accounts with each other, between the Syrians themselves, between the Iraqis themselves should be put aside for later, when the threat has diminished,’ he added. The emphasis on not involving foreign powers in the internal affairs of other countries was an implicit reprimand to the Saudi regime which is deeply engaged in a military intervention in Yemen.
The Saudi foreign minister displayed a rather imperious manner during the conference which seemed to rile Lavrov. He frowned and fiddled with his mobile phone, checking his messages and displaying obvious signs of boredom. At one point, not realizing his microphone was switched on, Lavrov was heard to mutter ‘f****** idiots’.
Al-Jubeir’s comments on Assad suggest that the Kingdom has switched back to its former position that he must go before a political solution to the crisis can be brokered but only days ago, Prince Salman seemed to be considering working with the Syrian regime in order to counter IS. Is there a secret Saudi plan to declare war on Syria within the framework of its current operations in Yemen? This seems unlikely since all parties, including the Saudis, realize that Syria is not Yemen and that Assad has managed to resist every effort to unseat him for five years and has been prepared to inflict devastating carnage (250,000 dead and counting) and wholesale destruction in order to stay in power.
The dispute over the fate of President Assad is not really between Saudi Arabia and Russia, but between the Western powers and Russia. Both parties now give priority to the eradication of the “Islamic State” as the greatest threat and are united in this at least.
Washington and Moscow have been working hard to persuade Saudi Arabia and Turkey to come on board with a revised approach which requires the Syrian system to remain intact, particularly its security and military institutions (the army), in order to prevent a recurrence of what happened in Libya and Iraq where, due to the security vacuum, the country sank into chaos and IS was able to take control. The question is whether or not the system can survive without its head – Assad – even if they all wanted to sever it which Moscow and Tehran do not.
We remember when President Assad was a friend and one of the Saudi’s strongest allies. The red carpets in Riyadh and Jeddah were regularly brushed to receive his feet and he was the only Arab leader who attended the opening of the King Abdullah University of science and technology six years ago, in the presence of the King.
Al-Jubeir’s second main point, that Assad enabled IS to thrive is out of kilter with history and reality on the ground. Everybody knows that the seed of IS was planted during the American occupation of Iraq, watered by Nouri al-Maliki’s government’s sectarianism against the Sunnis and enabled to spread rapidly into Syria and beyond by the Syrian revolution and post-revolutionary chaos in Libya.
The Saudi kingdom is founded on Wahhabism which has a great deal in common with the extremist ideology of Islamic State; as a result, Caliph Ibrahim’s group is popular with Saudi youths and much of its early financing came from Saudi sources both official and individual before Saudi authorities realised the existential threat IS offered to its own establishment.
How can Assad be responsible for the emergence of IS when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of its predecessor the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) never once set foot Syrian territory, and was the representative of al-Qa’ida in Iraq only.
It is clear that al-Jubeir, who heads Saudi diplomacy and is currently replacing the late Prince Saud Al-Faisal, does not have sufficient experience in this field, having been in post only three months. Perhaps he needs to chose his words more carefully and adapt his attitude when dealing with international heavyweights like Sergei Lavrov.

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(Reuters) - The United States sent six F-16 jets and about 300 personnel to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on Sunday, the U.S. military said, after Ankara agreed last month to allow American planes to launch air strikes against Islamic State militants from there.
The Pentagon said in a statement the "small detachment" is from the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Support equipment was also sent but no details were provided.
"The United States and Turkey, as members of the 60-plus nation coalition, are committed to the fight against ISIL in the pursuit of peace and stability in the region," the statement said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The ability to fly manned bombing raids out of Incirlik, a major base used by both U.S. and Turkish forces, against targets in nearby Syria could be a big advantage. Such flights have had to fly mainly from the Gulf.
Turkey's decision last month to allow use of the base follows longtime reluctance by Ankara to become engaged in the fight against Islamist militants.
Turkey has faced increasing insecurity along its 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria, with fears the conflict could spill onto Turkish soil and worsen relations with its Kurdish minority.

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Indian Army, Air Force and Navy Officers carry the body of former Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam at Palam Airforce Station in New Delhi. (AFP)

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee pays his last respects at the body of former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam at Palam Airforce Station in New Delhi. (AFP)

Students, staff and members of the faculty of the Indian Institute of Science pay a candle light tribute to former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in Bangalore. (AFP)

Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh leaves after paying homage to former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at his house in New Delhi. (AFP)

Indian school children form a missile during a condolence ceremony for former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in Agartala, the capital of northeastern state of Tripura. (AFP)

Indian sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik gives tribute through his sand sculpture to India's former president and scientist, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (83) at Puri beach, some 65 kilometres from Bhubaneswar. (AFP)

The body of former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is transported from the airport to his house in New Delhi. (AFP)

India's flag is flown at half-mast at the Parliament House as a mark of respect for former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who died at the age of 83, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday. (AP)

India's former president and top scientist A. P. J. Kalam, who played a lead role in the country's nuclear weapons tests, died July 28, a hospital official said. He was 83. (AFP)

Indian school children pray during a condolence ceremony for former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in Agartala, the capital of northeastern state of Tripura. (AFP)

Indian students pay tribute to the former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam with a painting of the late statesman in Allahabad. (AFP)

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