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Tuesday, August 22

If this report is accurate, pardon me while I faint from shock

Arab Daily: Saudi Arabia Changing Anti-Syria Policy by Sacking Al-Jubeir, Demanding Iraq's Mediation

Before I get to the details in the report, it's been known to the public for several weeks (and much earlier to insiders) that Al Saud has been talking a new line about Syria. I've taken the view that I'll believe the talk when I'm certain it's backed up by sustained action. But yesterday SouthFront picked up on a striking omission in a blistering speech by Assad that gives some support to the rumor that Jubeir will be shown the door:
On Sunday, the President of Syria Bashar al-Assad attacked Turkey and the West during a speech at the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and expatriates annual conference:

“We have managed to foil the Western project. The West is like a chameleon due to its behavior to fit different situations. The psychological war against the Damascus government has failed to discourage us from fighting terrorism or even frighten us… We have fought terror since day one and we will continue to fight it until there is no terrorist in Syria…” Assad stressed.
He also added that Syria does not see Turkish President Erdogan as a partner.

“Erdogan is playing the role of a political bagger after he was exposed for supporting terrorism, and we don’t consider the Turkish side a partner, nor a guarantor and we don’t trust it,” Assad said.
South Front quoted more from the speech but the big surprise was what Assad didn't say:
One very notable thing about the speech is that while the Syrian president aggressively attacked Turkey and the West, he didn’t directly attack the Gulf countries. A note that some believe may mean that the near future might witness a Syrian-Saudi reconciliation, even if only on a low level.
It would be on a considerably higher level if Jubeir is indeed sacked. From the August 21 FARS report I linked to above:
TEHRAN (FNA)- Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir will possibly be fired soon, an Arab [Syrian] media outlet said, noting that the development and Riyadh's demand for Iraq's mediation to improve ties with Iran indicate Saudi Arabia is changing its policy on Syria.
The Arabic-language al-Ajel news website said different issues, including the crises in Qatar and Yemen and the victories against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, have made the Saudi regime review its calculations and plans ...
Meantime, secret information indicates that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seeks to replace al-Jubeir with prince Khalid bin Salman, the current Saudi ambassador to the US, it added.
According to the Syrian website, al-Jubeir played a leading role in Saudi Arabia's anti-Shiite policies and he has several times criticized Iran for religious reasons. [He has also stressed] that he will be the victim of Riyadh's altering views and stance to improve relations with Tehran.
 Earlier this month, an Iraqi minister said that Saudi Arabia has asked Baghdad to play a mediating role between Riyadh and Tehran to resume bilateral relations.
Iraqi Interior Minister Qassim al-Araji, who was on a visit to Saudi Arabia recently, announced that the Saudi officials have urged the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran.
"Mohammed bin Salman (the Saudi crown prince) officially demanded [of] me that Iraq mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia to reduce tensions. King Salman had also earlier raised such a demand. We believe that friendly relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia will help the regional security," al-Araji said in a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli in Tehran.
[...]
The rest of the report focuses on Iran's side of the story in its rocky dealings with Al Saud these past few years. But right now I want to stick with the question mark about Syria and Al Saud.  

Yesterday, an AP report picked by the Saudi Gazette discussed the latest meeting of the Saudi-controlled HNC:
RIYADH — Three Syrian opposition camps met in Riyadh Monday [Aug 21] to try to forge a unified front for what the UN hopes will be a substantive round of peace negotiations in October.
The Saudi-backed opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) held an hours-long meeting in a Riyadh compound with delegations from two other moderate camps, the so-called Cairo and Moscow groupings.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has sought to unify the opposition to develop a more pragmatic negotiating strategy after hosting seven rounds of largely unsuccessful talks.
The main obstacle has been the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad, with the HNC insisting on his ouster but the other two camps adopting a softer stance on the issue.
"The goal of the meeting is to arrive at an agreement on the political program that forms the basis of the negotiations. At the forefront is the position on Bashar al-Assad," Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Ramadan told AFP this week.
There was no immediate comment on the conclusion of Monday's meeting.
De Mistura said last week that he hopes for "real, substantive" peace talks between the government and a still-to-be-formed unified Syrian opposition in October.
Rebels have suffered heavy territorial losses since peace talks to end the war began, including the regime's recapture of Aleppo, a former opposition stronghold.
With the rebel fighting position weakened, experts say the regime faces no pressure to make concessions at the negotiating table, and especially not over the question of Assad's future.
De Mistura has said he may still try to organise another "preparatory" round of talks in Geneva next month, but stressed that his office will be focusing on the agenda for "substantive talks" aimed for October. — AP
With respect for De Mistura's determined efforts to herd cats, the opposition is not facing reality. For years they were lulled into the idea that NATO forces would provide the military muscle to do what the opposition were unable to accomplish on their own, namely, stand up to well-armed terrorist groups.

But with a fantasy guiding them, the opposition went on pretending they could have an EU-style government in Syria, only one ruled over by their own clans in lieu of European technocrats. 

Does Al Saud know all this? I think they must know. Why, then, are they continuing to encourage the opposition's flights of fancy, if Riyadh has indeed turned over a new leaf regarding Syria?

Just asking; maybe somebody has a good answer. For now, I cling to South Front's sharp-eyed observation, although I'm not yet ready to grab for the smelling salts.

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