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'Closer' to Syria solution but Assad must go: Saudi foreign minister

The Saudi foreign minister has said a renewed diplomatic push to end the conflict in Syria had yielded some progress, but further consultations are needed. He reiterated his country's view that Assad must go.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reiterated his country's position that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should have no future role in Syria, but said diplomatic talks to end the crisis were making some progress.

"I believe that there has been some progress and positions have moved closer on finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, but I cannot say that we have reached an agreement," al-Jubeir said after meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo on Sunday. "We still need more consultations [...] to reach this point."

His comments come as key players in Syria's end game are in a renewed diplomatic push to reach a political solution to the five-year conflict after Russia upped the ante by starting an air campaign to bolster the Assad regime.

On one side is the Assad regime and its main backers, Russia and Iran. On the other are the Gulf states, Turkey and the US, who have all backed Syrian rebels of varying stripes but have different positions on what, if any, role Assad could play in a political transition.

Außenminister Saudi-Arabien al-Jubeir in Kairo

Al-Jubeir: "Assad will have no role in Syria's future"

Future talks

The US, Russia, Turkey and Saudi's top diplomats

sat down on Friday

in Vienna to discuss how to make progress on ending the conflict. Following the talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the two sides had failed to reach any concrete agreement but would try to meet again as early as next Friday.

Russia would like regional actors Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Iran included in future talks, but the Saudis have balked at sitting down with their regional rival, Tehran.

Since Friday, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have spoken over the phone twice, and on Saturday Kerry met with Saudi King Salman. Kerry and the Saudis agreed to up support for moderate rebels while pursuing a political track.

Assad's future

In a surprise visit last Tuesday, Assad made his first foreign trip outside the country since the conflict erupted in 2011 to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. That visit,

while condemned by Washington,

launched speculation over Assad's future, Russia's clout over the regime and what moves the parties would make.

Lavrov, in an interview on Saturday, mentioned the possibility of holding elections and reaching a political solution with all Syrians at the negotiating table, a suggestion that was

categorically refused by Syrian rebels,

who said Russia must stop bombing them and Assad must first step down.

Meanwhile, Assad reportedly told a Russian delegation on Sunday that elections could be held

once all terrorist organizations had been "eradicated."

That comment came after Lavrov hinted that the Russian Air Force could back some rebels groups against the "Islamic State," an idea US-backed rebels shot down.

The Saudi foreign minister on Sunday reiterated his country's position that Assad "will have no role in Syria's future. That is the position of the kingdom and that is the position of most countries in the world."

cw/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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