– Saudi FM says Assad must leave or be forced out; Gulf rulers back “political solution” for Syria
– Moscow announces trilateral Syria talks in Geneva on Friday
– Syria Kurd-Arab coalition creates political wing
– Turkey promises legal status to Muslim minority community
– ISIS destroys bridge as Iraqi forces close in on Ramadi
– Turkey, Iraqi Kurdish leaders meet amid dispute over troops

Saudi FM says Assad must leave or be forced out; Gulf rulers back “political solution” for Syria

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Thursday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has two choices, “Either to leave through negotiations” or be forcibly removed from power, arguing that the Syrian people will not accept any other outcomes. Speaking to reporters during a two-day meeting of Syrian opposition groups taking place in Riyadh, al-Jubeir said he hoped the various factions can come up with a common vision for Syria. The meeting, which ends on Thursday, aims at forming a unified front ahead of proposed peace negotiations with Assad’s government. United States Secretary of State John Kerry described talks as ” very constructive,” and said the next Syria meeting will tentatively be held on December 18 at the United Nations. Also on Thursday, Gulf Cooperation Council rulers said they “ support a political settlement…that guarantees the territorial integrity and independence of Syria.”[AP, 12/10/2015]

Moscow announces trilateral Syria talks in Geneva on Friday
Russia said Moscow, Washington, and the United Nations (UN) will hold Syria talks in Geneva on Friday as diplomatic efforts to end the conflict are ratcheted up. “We will be having consultations in the trilateral format-Russia, the United States, and the UN,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told RIA Novosti state news agency on Wednesday. Gatilov said Russia would be calling for the “intensification of joint efforts” in the “fight against terrorism.” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a call with his US counterpart Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, said a list of “terrorist groups that we must not talk to and that we must fight together,” should be drawn up. Moscow has sought, so far without success, to persuade nations in the US-led coalition that opposes Assad to work with its own forces flying a bombing campaign in Syria and with Damascus in a broader coalition against ISIS. [AFP, 12/10/2015]

Syria Kurd-Arab coalition creates political wing
A Kurdish-Arab coalition fighting ISIS in northern Syria has announced the creation of a political wing, as momentum builds for a diplomatic solution to the war. The formation of the Syrian Democratic Council was agreed at a two-day conference in the northeastern town of al-Malikiyeh where participants also discussed the future of the country after more than four years of war. “The participants agreed on the creation of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political branch of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” a statement issued at the end of the conference read. The SDF, formed in October, brings together the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) with smaller Arab and Christian militias in a coalition intended to take on ISIS. Participants at the al-Malikiyeh conference said President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was partly responsible for the country’s war but was also a key to resolving the bloody conflict. The body also said it is committed to a decentralized political system for Syria, without specificying what form that might take. [AFP, 12/10/2015]

Turkey promises legal status to Muslim minority community
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced a series of reforms his new government aims to implement within the next three to six months, including granting legal status to the minority Alevi Muslims’ places of worship. Turkey’s Alevis, who follow a brand of Islam that is rooted in Shia beliefs, have long complained of discrimination in the mostly Sunni country, including the non-recognition of their “cemevi” houses of worship. Davutoglu said Thursday the cemevi would be given legal status, but did not elaborate. Other reforms announced include improvements to the Roma community’s rights, strengthening civic society groups, and an increase to the minimum wage. Davutoglu also sought opposition parties’ support for a new constitution that would replace the current charter, which is a legacy of Turkey’s 1980 military coup. [AP, 12/10/2015]

ISIS destroys bridge as Iraqi forces close in on Ramadi
Besieged ISIS militants in the Iraqi city of Ramadi destroyed a lock on the Euphrates River that served as a bridge, as government forces on Wednesday sought to cement their gains around the militant-held city west of Baghdad. Iraqi Head of Military Operations in the western Anbar province Major General Ismail al-Mahlawi said the lock destroyed Wednesday was the last remaining bridge from the city center to the northwest. The lock’s destruction leaves some 300 ISIS fighters trapped in the center of the city, he added. US Spokesman for the US-led coalition in Baghdad Colonel Steven Warren said the destruction of the bridge may prove to be a tactical mistake for ISIS. Spokesman for the Anbar governor’s office Muhannad Haimour said he received reports from residents still inside Ramadi that ISIS was also destroying buildings and radio towers. [ AP, 12/10/2015]

Turkey, Iraqi Kurdish leaders meet amid dispute over troops
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region on Wednesday in Ankara amid diplomatic efforts to resolve a dispute over Turkish troops in northern Iraq. Erdogan and Kurdish regional President Masoud Barzani reportedly discussed the need to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, which Turkey says is the reason it has stationed troops in northern Iraq to work with and train Kurdish Peshmerga forces to fight ISIS. Barzani, who has long-standing ties with Ankara, also made an unannounced visit to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization and visited with spy chief Hakan Fidan during his two-day stay in Turkey. The two presidents did not issue a statement after their hour-and-a-half meeting, but Erdogan told Al-Jazeera that the Turkish forces were deployed at the request of Iraq’s leader in 2014 and that Baghdad had not made an issue of it until this week. Davutoglu is expected to visit Baghdad soon to try to calm tensions. Despite attempts at resolving differences, Turkey issued an advisory to its citizens on Wednesday to leave all areas of Iraq except Iraq’s Kurdish region due to increased security risks. [Radio Free Europe , 12/10/2015]