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RIYADH Jan 23 U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry said on Saturday he was confident Syria peace talks would
proceed, after he held talks with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
states in Saudi Arabia.
"We are confident that with good initiative in the next day
or so those talks can get going and that the U.N. representative
special envoy, Staffan De Mistura, will be convening people in
an appropriate manner for the proximity talks that will be the
first meeting in Geneva," he told reporters in Riyadh.
The Syria peace talks are planned to begin on Jan. 25 in
Geneva, but there is uncertainty around the date, partly because
of a dispute over who will be part of the opposition delegation.
Kerry said major countries would convene after the first
round of negotiations.
"I won't announce a date, but we all agreed that immediately
after completion of the first round of the Syria discussions,
the International Syria Support Group will convene, and that
will be very shortly, because we want to keep the process
moving," he said.
Peace efforts face huge underlying challenges, among them
disagreements over President Bashar al-Assad's future and
worsening relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Tensions between the two regional rivals escalated this
month after the Saudi execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric. That
triggered an attack by Iranian protesters on the Saudi embassy
in Tehran embassy, leading the kingdom to cut diplomatic ties.
"None of us are under any illusions that obstacles don't
still exist to trying to seek a political settlement in Syria,"
Kerry said. "We know its tough. If it were easy, it would have
happened a long time ago."
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country was
working with the U.S. to find ways to remove Assad from power.
He downplayed any change in U.S.-Iran relations after an
agreement with world powers on Iran's nuclear programmed led
them to lift sanctions on Iran.
"We work with our American friends on ways to remove Bashar
al-Assad from Syria and move the country towards a better
future," he said.
"I don't see a coming together of the United States and
Iran, as some of the pundits have described it. Iran remains the
world's chief sponsor of terrorism."
Kerry said the lifting of sanctions presented an opportunity
to work together with Iran to address some of the worries Saudi
Arabia and other countries had.
"Now we have the ability to begin to work together to
address the concerns that Saudi Arabia and other countries have
and that we have," he said.
Kerry met earlier in Riyadh with representatives of the six
nations of the GCC, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman
and the United Arab Emirates. He is due to hold
talks with Riad Hijab, chair of the Syrian opposition's High
Negotiations Committee, which was formed in Riyadh last month.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Writing by Maha El Dahan;
Editing by Mark Heinrich)