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Kerry, King Abdullah meet to ease U.S.-Saudi Arabia tensions

Nov. 4, 2013 at 1:29 PM   |   Comments

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Monday to try to ease mounting tensions with the longtime U.S. ally in the Middle East.

During a news conference with Prince Saud al-Faisal, Kerry's Saudi counterpart, Kerry tried to tamp down reports of a rift between the two countries concerning differences over Syria, Iran and Egypt, The New York Times reported.

Kerry said President Obama asked him to reassure Saudi Arabian leaders the United States was committed to defending its ally against external threats and portrayed disagreements as more tactical in nature.

Faisal took a similar approach, saying in a statement: "A true relationship between friends is based on sincerity, candor and frankness, rather than mere courtesy. With this perspective, it's only natural that our policies and views might see agreement in some areas and disagreement in others."

The prince acknowledged the two sides differed on objectives, which he did not identify, although he said the differences chiefly concerned how to pursue those objectives.

On Syria, Faisal said both the United States and Saudi Arabia agree on the need for a peace conference and that Syrian President Bashar Assad should not have a role if a deal on a new transitional government is struck. However, Saudi Arabia is unhappy the United States decided against a military strike against Syria over the use of chemical weapons Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb in which hundreds were killed.

Saudi Arabia also is concerned the United States may try to work with regional rival Iran on its nuclear program.

Earlier Monday, Kerry worked to set a positive tone for his meeting when he described Saudi Arabia as "the senior player in the Arab world."

Kerry began his nine-day trip to the Middle East and North Africa in Cairo, his first trip there as secretary of state since Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July.

In a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy Sunday in Cairo, Kerry reiterated the U.S. commitment to Egypt and its pledge to work with the interim government.

"What happens here is profoundly important to the region and it is in the interest of the United States," Kerry said. "It is no secret that this has been a difficult time and these have been a turbulent couple of years. But the Egyptian people have shown the world how strong they are. They have really demonstrated a significant resolve as they work to see their transition to meet their aspirations as they've tried to make that work. We know full well ... that the path forward is ultimately in the hands of the Egyptian people, and we are confident that they will overcome the challenges that are facing them."

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