Russian envoy visits Saudi Arabia for Syria, Gulf talks

By Abdulliah Al-Shihri and Aya Batrawy, Associated Press

The Saudi king and Russia's foreign minister met in Saudi Arabia on Sunday ahead of a possible visit by the monarch to Russia next month.

In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi King Salman, right, receives the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at Al-Salam Palace in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunday Sept. 10, 2017. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The Saudi king and Russia's foreign minister met in Saudi Arabia on Sunday ahead of a possible visit by the monarch to Russia next month.

King Salman greeted Sergey Lavrov at his summer palace in the Red Sea city of Jiddah before the Russian envoy's meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The king's 32-year-old son and heir to the throne, who oversees Saudi energy and defense policy, visited Russia in May to boost ties between the world's two top oil producers.

Saudi Arabia's state news agency said the monarch and Lavrov discussed the wars in Syria and Yemen, as well as an Arab diplomatic crisis with Qatar.

Russia and Saudi Arabia back warring sides in Syria's conflict, with the kingdom supporting Sunni rebel groups fighting the Syrian government, which is backed by Moscow and Shiite-ruled Iran. In a brief press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Jiddah, Lavrov said Russia supports Saudi Arabia's efforts to unite the Syrian opposition into one group.

Lavrov is scheduled to visit Jordan next. Last month, the Arab diplomatic crisis with Qatar drew Lavrov to the region, where he met with leaders in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia's crown prince and Qatar's ruling emir spoke for the first time since a diplomatic crisis erupted in June, but the call only led to further public squabbling. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar over its ties with Islamist groups and relations with Iran. The four also accuse Qatar of supporting extremist groups.

Meanwhile, Qatar has moved to secure even closer ties with Russia through a $3 billion investment to acquire a stake in Russia's Rosneft oil company.

As the world's largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia have worked closely to curb oil production in an effort to shore up prices, however the two are also in fierce competition for a larger share in China's growing market.

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