Saudi Arabia Saturday demanded that Russia and Iran withdraw all military forces from Syria, where the two countries have intervened on behalf of President Bashar Assad in the country's continuing civil war, Reuters reported. Saudi Arabia, which supports rebel fighters opposing Assad's regime, Friday participated in talks in Vienna with Russia and Iran to negotiate a way toward a resolution of the war.
"Our two points where we differ from them are on a date and means for Assad's departure, and the second point is on a date and means for the withdrawal of foreign forces, especially Iranian ones," Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview with Sky News Arabia. "These are the two basic points without which there can be no solution."
The rebel fighters working against Assad -- which the U.S. and Saudis contend are moderate and do not contain jihadist elements such as Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State group or al-Qaeda -- have asked for support against Assad's forces, which are backed by Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian fighters and Russian airstrikes, Reuters reported. During the Vienna meeting, the Saudis and the U.S. agreed to increase support to "moderate Syrian opposition."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Riyadh to meet Saudi's recently ascended King Salman last Saturday before continuing to Austria to sit down with his diplomatic counterparts from Turkey, Iran and Russia. "They pledged to continue and intensify support to the moderate Syrian opposition while the political track is being pursued," the State Department said of the meeting, Reuters reported.
Russia's airstrikes in Syria are widely seen as a move to shore up Assad's hold of certain parts of the country. It is a new phase of its support for the regime, after providing weaponry and sticking up for Assad at the United Nations. The BBC noted that Moscow is looking out for a key naval facility at the port of Tartous, Russia's sole base for its navy in the Black Sea.
The U.S. condemns Assad while also supporting efforts to combat one of his enemies, the Islamic State, on the ground. A widely panned effort to dispatch 5,000 Syrian rebels against the terrorist group has produced few results, and on Friday the Obama administration authorized new U.S. "boots on the ground" in the Middle Eastern country, CNN reported.