Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Obama in talks on Syria

The leaders’ discussed Moscow’s military intervention in a phone conversation, days ahead of a visit to the GCC by the top envoy coordinating the US-led coalition fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

US president Barack Obama and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, agree that Russia should target only ISIL in Syria.

The leaders’ discussed Moscow’s military intervention in a phone conversation on Friday, days ahead of a visit to the GCC by the top envoy coordinating the US-led coalition fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

The White House said Sheikh Mohammed and Mr Obama agreed that the Russian military operations should be directed solely at the extremist group and “not moderate Syrian opposition groups”.

The leaders also “reaffirmed the importance of establishing the conditions necessary for a political transition in Syria”.

Russia last month launched a military campaign in Syria, ostensibly to fight ISIL. In practice, however, the campaign has been a bid to prop up the tottering Damascus regime and has focused primarily on western, Gulf and Turkey-backed moderates and other rebels who pose the most immediate threat to Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.

Officials in Washington say the move is a strategic mistake that will only escalate the conflict, but it has badly undermined US strategy. Russia carries out about as many bombing raids in a day in Syria as the US-led coalition carried out each month, and is now backing a ground assault by Iranian, Syrian and Shiite militia forces to try and retake all of Aleppo city.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has also used the intervention to try and counter US influence in the region by proposing an alternative coalition led by Moscow and including Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Last week, Mr Putin met Sheikh Mohammed and the Saudi Arabian defence minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to discuss Syria, but so far Gulf countries remain unconvinced about his intentions. Riyadh has increased its military support to rebel groups in the wake of Moscow’s intervention.

The US presidential envoy for the anti-ISIL coalition, General John Allen, will begin a trip to the GCC for meetings with officials in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Kuwait City, Doha and Manama “on coalition progress and regional issues”, the US state department said.

He will be joined by his deputy, Brett McGurk, in Abu Dhabi.

Mr Obama and Sheikh Mohammed touched on other key regional issues, and agreed on “the importance of expanding immediately the free flow of humanitarian assistance” in Yemen and that all sides of the conflict there should resume political negotiations, the White House said.

They also discussed the recent UN-brokered draft political agreement between Libya’s two competing governments and “agreed on the importance of Libya’s parties moving quickly to endorse” the accord.

tkhan@thenational.ae

Published: October 18, 2015 04:00 AM

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