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    Saudi Arabia, Turkey Likely to Resolve Tensions Over Khashoggi Case – Naumkin

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    SOCHI (Sputnik) – Turkey and Saudi Arabia are likely to resolve their differences over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Vitaly Naumkin, the academic director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told Sputnik.

    "We are following the situation carefully and attentively. There is a problem in relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and of course, I am sure that it will be resolved, because none of the states are interested in the escalation of differences, and in this conflict," Naumkin said on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club.

    He noted that the United States turned the issue of Khashoggi’s vanishing into another pretext for the fight between President Donald Trump's administration and those who opposed him.

    "In fact, I interpret this as a factor of pressuring Trump to show that he is wrong, that he went away from the ideals of democracy… Today, the US turns any problem into the internal settling of accounts. In a sense, I believe that we are also hostages of the domestic political situation in the United States," Naumkin said.

    READ MORE: Pompeo to Meet With President Erdogan, Turkish Counterpart — Foreign Ministry

    Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, went missing on October 2. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he went to receive papers he needed to remarry.

    Turkey has expressed concerns that Khashoggi could have been murdered inside the building, while the Saudi government has denied involvement in the case, claiming that the journalist disappeared after he left the consulate.

    Process of Setting Up Demilitarized Zone in Syria's Idlib Going Well 

    The process of creating a demilitarized zone in the Syrian province in Idlib is going smoothly but far from over, Vitaly Naumkin, the academic director of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies, told Sputnik.

    "So far, everything is going well. The Turks are fulfilling their obligations, the heavy weapons are said to be withdrawn, but it is clear that those who want to stay will just go further into Idlib…. The process is far from over," the expert said on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi.

    According to Naumkin, Turkey still needs to distinguish which militant groups are terrorists and should be neutralized and which groups are not terrorist-affiliated and should stop fighting against Damascus if they want to join the settlement process.

    "There is no common deadline… But everyone understands that establishment of any zones, be it deescalation or demilitarization under the September 17 Russian-Turkey memorandum, is temporary and none of them questions Syrian territorial integrity," the expert concluded.

    READ MORE: US May Impose Sanctions on Firms Working on Syria Reconstruction — Reports

    On September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to set up a 9-12 mile deep demilitarized zone in Idlib along the contact line of the armed opposition and the government forces by October 15. The Turkish Defense Ministry has confirmed that heavy weapons had been withdrawn from the designated area in accordance with the memorandum.

    The province of Idlib in northwest Syria is the last remaining stronghold of terrorist groups operating in the country, including Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist organization (outlawed in Russia), which has joined forces with four other jihadi groups in Idlib to form a terrorist alliance called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham*, widely regarded as the dominant force on the ground in the province.

    Syrian Constitutional Committee Regulations Under Discussion

    The rules of procedure for the Syrian Constitutional Committee are being discussed and could lead to a summit of the three guarantor states, Vitaly Naumkin, the academic director of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies, told Sputnik on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club.

    "The regulations are under discussion because the United Nations is responsible for the negotiating process, the rules are discussed between the guarantor states and parties to conflict … the contacts with the office of [UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan] de Mistura are ongoing and this multilateral diplomacy may lead to a possible new summit of the guarantor states," Naumkin said.

    READ MORE: Daesh Attacks Refugee Camp in Syria, Take Hundreds Hostage — Russian Military

    Each guarantor state pays a different role in the talks on the constructional committee with Russia engaged more with the Syrian government, while Turkey holds responsibility for contacts with the Syrian opposition, the academic noted.

    The decision to set up the Syrian constitutional committee was agreed upon in January, during the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in the Russian resort city of Sochi. Currently, de Mistura is working on creating a special committee in Geneva that will be tasked with preparing a constitutional reform.

    In early October, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the work on establishing the committee was very difficult because not all participants of the process were ready for the constructive approach.

    Small Group on Syria Constitutes Notable Force in Political Settlement

    The Small Group on Syria should be viewed as an important player in the Syrian political settlement, despite the certain bias of some of its members, Vitaly Naumkin, the academic director of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies, told Sputnik.

    "Many of the members of this group are not impartial, but the Small Group does exist. It includes the three most influential European countries and three very influential regional nations … with which Russia has very close relations. Tomorrow, Sochi will host talks between [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah] Sisi, for instance. One cannot ignore it. This is a force," Naumkin said on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club.

    READ MORE: Nusra Front Signals Readiness for Deal With Russia, Turkey in Idlib — Report

    Meanwhile, the academic stressed that proposals of neither side concerning the conflict settlement could be binding, noting that the search for a solution should be encouraged and become a subject of discussion.

    The Small Group on Syria is a format that brings together Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The members of the group regularly meet in a bid to find a solution to the Syrian conflict.

    Most recently, in late September, the group called on UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to report back to the Security Council on the progress toward convening a constitutional committee for Syria no later than October 31.

    *Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, commonly referred to as Tahrir al-Sham is a terrorist group banned in Russia

    The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    journalist, disappearance, missing, Vitaly Naumkin, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia
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