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Saudis back Syria truce deals, Russia says

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Photographs by AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File

In this Jan. 24, 2017 file photo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, welcomes Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi during their meeting in Moscow, Russia.

AMMAN, Jordan -- Saudi Arabia has assured Russia that it supports a gradual process of negotiating local cease-fires and setting up "de-escalation zones" in Syria, Russia's foreign minister said Monday, a day after meeting with Saudi leaders.

Russia and Iran, Saudi Arabia's main regional foe, back Syria's government, while Saudi Arabia supports Syrian rebels. Russia, Iran and Turkey, another rebel backer, have been sponsoring talks, known for their venue, the Kazakh capital Astana, on local cease-fires and de-escalation zones. A new round starts later this week.

Asked Monday whether Saudi leaders support the Astana process, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters, "Yes, I think Saudi Arabia is determined to solve the Syria crisis."

He said that when the process began, Saudi leaders expressed support for it and said "they would cooperate in creating de-escalation zones and implementing other initiatives which are being developed in Astana."

Lavrov spoke at a news conference after holding talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. Later Monday, Lavrov held talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Jordan has a vital interest in pacifying southern Syria. The Syrian civil war, now in its seventh year, triggered an exodus of refugees, including hundreds of thousands Syrians who found refuge in Jordan. Two years ago, the fighting forced the closure of Jordan's last trade crossing with Syria.

Safadi said Monday that Jordanian-Russian cooperation is important, especially in southern Syria.

Local cease-fires have proved to be the most successful approach to mitigating multisided fighting in Syria, which has killed some 400,000 people and displaced half the country's population since 2011, he said.

In a dig at the U.S., Lavrov defended his country's military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying Russia, along with Iran and the Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah, are in Syria "based on a direct invitation from the legitimate Syrian authorities."

He said that closer U.S.-Russian cooperation in fighting extremists in Syria failed because of a failure by Washington to separate the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra Front, "from other opposition forces the Americans cooperated with."

A Section on 09/12/2017

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