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Talks begin to end six-year Syria war

INITIAL talks on ending the six-year war in Syria began in the Saudi capital Riyadh and the Russian resort of Sochi yesterday.

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Hassan Rouhani of Iran flew into the Black Sea resort for discussions with Russia’s Vladimir Putin — who had met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad there the day before.

Meanwhile, leaders of divided opposition and insurgent groups met in Riyadh with United Nations peace envoy Staffan de Mistura to seek a common negotiating position.

Before leaving for Russia, Mr Rouhani insisted that Syria’s future was not in the hands of foreign powers.

He said the meeting would “come up with a statement which we hope will be the basis of a better future for Syria.”

The three countries have mediated and guaranteed talks in parallel to the UN’s Geneva process in the Kazakh capital Astana, which have yielded ceasefire agreements.

Mr de Mistura urged unity at the disparate Riyadh gathering of legal opposition parties and sectarian guerillas ahead of two rounds of talks with the government that he will host in Geneva next month.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said there was an international consensus on seeking a solution.

But the talks were complicated by Monday’s resignation of former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab as head of the Saudi-convened High Negotiations Committee in protest at the kingdom dropping its demand for Mr Assad’s overthrow.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabiya news reported that members of the “Moscow Platform” of opposition parties had walked out in protest at extremist demands for regime change.

They included People’s Will Party leader Qadri Jamil, a former member of the Syrian Communist Party’s Bakdash wing.

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