Saudi Troop Deployment in Syria up to U.S.-led Coalition: FM Jubeir

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir has said the decision to send his country's ground troops to Syria lies with the U.S. led coalition. REUTERS/Max Rossi

RIYADH, Feb 14  – Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that any move to deploy Saudi special forces into Syria will depend on a decision by the U.S.-led coalition fighting Daesh.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday he expected both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to send special operations forces to Syria to help local opposition fighters in their drive to retake the city of Raqqa, Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria.

Saudi Arabia on Saturday confirmed it had sent aircraft to NATO-member Turkey’s Incirlik air base for the fight against Daesh militants.

“The Kingdom’s readiness to provide special forces to any ground operations in Syria is linked to a decision to have a ground component to this coalition against Daesh  in Syria—this U.S.-led coalition—so the timing is not up to us,” Jubeir told a news conference with his Swiss counterpart in Riyadh.

“With regards to timing of the mission or size of troops, this has yet to be worked out,” he added.

Major powers agreed in Munich on Friday to a pause in combat in Syria, but Russia pressed on with bombing in support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, its ally. Assad has promised to fight until he regains full control of the country.

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending U.S. ground troops to Syria. But Turkey said that both Ankara and Riyadh would support a coalition ground operation.

Separately, Jubeir said Switzerland would handle Saudi Arabia’s consular affairs in Iran and would facilitate Iranian pilgrims coming to the kingdom, following Riyadh’s decision to cut relations with Tehran.

Relations worsened between the regional arch-rivals over Saudi Arabia’s Jan. 2 execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric. That led Iranian protesters to storm Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, after which Riyadh severed relations.

“Switzerland offered to … handle the (consular) interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran, and we in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia appreciated that and accepted,” Jubeir said.

But he said there was no need for mediation in Saudi Arabia’s rift with Iran, citing what he described as Iran’s long pattern of interference in regional conflicts.

The Islamic Republic said last week that Tehran and Riyadh must overcome their strained relations and work for stability in Syria and the middle East.

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