Saudi Gazette – Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Saturday that his country would continue to support Syrian rebels if President Bashar Al-Assad could not be removed through a political process.

“We will support the Syrian people,” Adel Al-Jubeir told journalists on the sidelines of international Syria peace talks in Vienna.

“We will support the political process that will result in (Assad) leaving, or we will continue to support the Syrian opposition in order to remove him by force.”

Russia, the United States and powers from Europe and the Middle East outlined a plan on Saturday for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, but differences remained on key issues such as President Bashar Al-Assad’s fate.

In a joint statement, the countries involved in the talks laid out a plan including formal talks between the government and opposition by Jan. 1.

The statement did not make clear how those groups would be chosen, but said they should follow principles such as committing to Syria’s “non-sectarian character” and keeping state institutions intact.

Abdulbaset Sieda, a member of the exiled, Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), said the time frame for a planned election sounded too ambitious. “I am not sure it will be in 18 months’ time. Of course we need to be hopeful for the future, but we need more time,” Sieda told Reuters on the sidelines of the Vienna talks. “A realistic time frame … is two to three years.”

The participants pledged to “take all possible steps” to ensure that they and those they support adhere to a ceasefire in Syria, where 250,000 people have been killed in the war. “(The countries) affirmed their support for a ceasefire … and for a Syrian-led process that will, within a target of six months, establish credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, and set a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution,” the statement said.

The joint statement provided for elections supervised by the United Nations “within 18 months.” Diplomats have spoken of an 18-month transitional period, suggesting it would start when the formal political talks begin.

It also said the countries involved agreed to press the parties to the conflict not to use “indiscriminate weapons,” a term that appeared to include barrel bombs — steel drums packed with shrapnel and explosives — which the Syrian government is widely accused of dropping in civilian areas.


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