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German FM urges Syrian opposition to make compromises at Riyadh talks

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged Syrian opposition groups gathering for talks in Saudi Arabia to unify. The talks will aim to form a bloc for potential negotiations with Syria's President Assad.

On a visit to Kurdish-controlled Erbil in the north of Iraq, Steinmeier pledged continued military assistance for the Kurdish peshmerga fighters - a key ally so far on the ground against the so-called "Islamic State."

"We are determined to continue the cooperation with you and the Peshmerga," Steinmeier said, a day after

his appointments in the capital,

Baghdad. He added that this cooperation would have to be embedded into a "broader overall political strategy."

Looking across the extremely porous border to Syria, Steinmeier also called on the splintered Syrian opposition to overcome their differences during the coming days of talks.

In comments to the DPA news agency, Steinmeier urged unity, despite the compromises this would necessitate.

The talks in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, are scheduled to get underway in the next few days. Media reports say that up to 100 participants are expected.

It will be the first gathering to bring together a representative sample of the motley array of factions fighting against President Bashar al-Assad since the Syrian conflict broke out in mid-2011.

The goal of the talks is to create a unified bloc of the most moderate Syrian opposition groups for potential talks with Assad on forming a transition government by mid-2016 - one of the steps proposed in a peace road map for Syria formulated by a group of top diplomats from 17 countries

at a meeting in Vienna last month.

The timetable agreed in Vienna has also called for elections within 18 months.

Contentious invitations

Saudi Arabia has said "all factions of the moderate Syrian opposition" were invited to the Riyadh talks.

But Kurdish groups, including the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, did not receive an invitation, while Ahra al-Sham, allied with al Qaeda's Syrian branch the al-Nusra Front, has reportedly been asked to take part, to the dismay of some other groups involved.

Syrien-Konferenz in Wien

Steinmeier has called for another Syria conference in Vienna

However, armed groups that have been described as "terrorist" organizations, such as the al-Nusra Front itself and the "Islamic State" group, have not been included among the invited participants.

The talks are likely to be made still more difficult by the different views held by participants on the role to be played by Assad. Groups supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are calling for the Syrian president's immediate ouster, something that is vehemently opposed by Iran and Russia.

All previous attempts to find common ground among the diverse groups making up the opposition to Assad have failed. But diplomatic efforts are growing to find a political resolution to Syria's conflict, which has cost the lives of more than 250,000 people and force millions to leave their homes.

tj/msh (AFP, dpa)

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