Saudi FM Says Assad Must Go, Kerry Says Saudi Talks on Syria 'Constructive'

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) with Saudi FM Prince Saud Al-Faisal, in Riyadh, Nov. 4, 2013.Credit: AP

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia's foreign minister says that Syrian President Bashar Assad has two choices: "either to leave through negotiations" or be forcibly removed from power.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir spoke Thursday to reporters during a two-day meeting of Syrian opposition groups taking place in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The talks are aimed at forming a unified front ahead of proposed peace talks with Assad's government.

Al-Jubeir said he hopes the Syrian opposition can come up with a common vision for Syria during the meeting. He urged delegates to prove wrong those who argue that the Syrian opposition is too fragmented to present a unified front at future peace talks.

Saudi Arabia has been a key backer of Sunni opposition blocs pushing for Assad's ouster.

Talks in Saudi Arabia between various Syrian opposition factions have been "very constructive," but it's too soon to lock in a new international diplomatic meeting to begin a UN-led political process aimed at ending Syria's civil war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.

Speaking at a climate conference outside Paris, Kerry said he had talked to al-Jubeir about the opposition gathering in Riyadh, and to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with the aim of organizing the next Syria meeting, tentatively set for December 18 at the United Nations.

Kerry spoke of "working toward the potential of a meeting in New York," while adding that it was "not locked in yet."

The top U.S. diplomat was working the phones as he attended a global climate summit outside Paris.

"The meeting in Saudi Arabia appears to be very constructive at this point and we need to wait for the results of that conference," Kerry said. "I think everybody is moving in the direction that they want to rapidly get to a political process and get it under way under UN auspices. So we made progress but we have some tough issues to get over."