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Saudis say ready to act without West ENVOY TERMS POLICIES ON IRAN, SYRIA ‘DANGEROUS GAMBLE’

WASHINGTON, Dec 18, (AFP): The West’s policies on Iran and Syria are a “dangerous gamble” and Saudi Arabia is prepared to act on its own to safeguard security in the region, a top Saudi diplomat said Tuesday. “We believe that many of the West’s policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East,” the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, wrote in a commentary in the New York Times. “This is a dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by,” he wrote.

The bluntly-worded warning was the latest in a series of public statements by senior Saudi figures expressing displeasure with US and Western diplomatic initiatives towards Syria and Iran. Until recently, Saudi leaders rarely voiced public criticism of their Western allies in a decades-long partnership. But Washington’s decision to Front, the rebel group that overran the Bab al-Hawa border crossing last week, seizing arms and Western equipment supplied to non-Islamists.

Peace talks are due to start in Switzerland on Jan. 22. The Coalition has agreed to go to the talks while insisting on Assad’s immediate removal, but a Middle East diplomat said opposition leaders should be “more creative” in their tactics - notably in agreeing to take part in transitional arrangements that would leave Assad’s fellow Alawites in key positions. “For Geneva to produce an arrangement acceptable to the United States and Russia, the opposition would have to accept taking part in a transitional administration with a strong Alawite presence,” the diplomat said. “Assad may or may not stay as president but at least he will have diminished powers. “If the opposition rejects such a deal, they will lose most of the West and only have Saudi Arabia, Libya and Turkey left on their side.” A second member of the Syrian opposition, who is in touch with US officials, said Washington and Russia appeared to be working in tandem on a transitional framework in which Alawites would retain their dominant role in the army and security apparatus to assure their community against retribution and to rally a unified fight against al-Qaeda with moderate rebel brigades, who would be invited to join a restructured military.

He criticised US and European officials for continuing to indulge in rhetoric that Assad has no future role to play in Syria, without spelling out how his rule will come to an end. “Even if Assad is sidelined and a Sunni heads a transitional authority, he would have no power because neither Washington nor Moscow appears to want to end the Alawite control over the military and security apparatus,” he said. A senior Western official said that Russia and the United States have discussed which government officials - and up to what level of seniority - could be retained in a transitional phase but that they had not agreed any fixed blueprint. Islamist rebels fighting in Syria have rejected overtures from the United States to sit down and talk, a senior US diplomat said on Wednesday. The Syrian government said it was “reprehensible” that Washington was prepared to enter a dialogue with the Islamic Front, which comprises six major Islamist rebel groups and which it considers a terrorist organisation.

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