US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with senior Emirati and Saudi officials in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi on Monday. The stated purpose of Kerry’s visit was finding ways to bring together Syrian opposition groups at a conference that will be hosted by Saudi Arabia next month.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahayan and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir sat with Kerry to discuss how to unify opponents of the Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad, a senior US State Department official told Reuters.
The opposition groups in question include the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), and a wide array of rebel groups currently fighting on the ground in Syria, although these are not all united, which is one of the reasons cited as to why diplomatic efforts are often stalled alongside a conflict of regional interests between Gulf Arab states and the US on the one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other.
Both Russia and Iran have been steady allies of Assad throughout the civil war in Syria that has killed over 250,000 people, most of whom were killed by Assad's forces.
Since the beginning of the four-year war in Syria, half of the country’s population has been displaced internally or to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. More than 350,000 Syrians have also claimed asylum in Europe.
On September 30, Russia launched a campaign of air strikes in Syria. It initially claimed to be targeting DAESH, signalling a new chapter in the Syrian conflict. However, in time Russia's intentions in Syria appeared to be to protect the Assad regime and its withering authority.
Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - met earlier this month in Vienna, where they agreed upon the urgency of orchestrating much needed formal talks between Assad and his opponents by January 1.