Kerry Tries to Soothe Relations with S. Arabia but Tensions Evident
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - US Secretary of State John Kerry met King Abdullah on Monday and praised the US alliance with Saudi Arabia as strategic and enduring, but strains in the nearly 70-year-old relationship were apparent over Syria and other issues.
Kerry visited the Persian Gulf oil power on a mission to soothe disagreements that also extend to US policy on Iran, Egypt and the Palestinian issue, but despite a public show of friendship, big differences remained.
The visit is the first since Saudi anger boiled over at the US decision not to bomb Syria in the wake of a chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus in August. A senior prince said at that time that Riyadh was contemplating a "major shift" away from Washington.
Saudi concerns are also partly founded on a fear that President Barack Obama's moves to reduce tensions with Iran will give the kingdom's main regional adversary an opportunity to extend its influence in Arab countries.
Kerry said he had offered Saudi leaders assurances that the United States would do nothing in talks with Iran to alter, upset, or get in the way of the relationship with Riyadh, and there would be "no surprises" for the kingdom.
However, while both Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal dismissed recent disagreements as being over tactics rather than ultimate goals, both repeated positions that reflect a wide rift on how they see the Middle East.
Speaking alongside Prince Saud, Kerry said there could be no military solution to Syria's problems and that the US had neither "the legal authority nor desire" to intervene.
He added that although Washington would continue to support moderate elements in the opposition, it was worried about Islamist forces growing in strength, Reuters reported.
Washington is pushing the Saudis to participate in the Geneva 2 Syria peace talks, and Kerry described a negotiated settlement as "the best way to end the bloodshed, respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, to counter the violent extremist groups".
But while Prince Saud said he understood the importance of talks, he repeated Riyadh's position that they could not be allowed to continue indefinitely while Assad remained in power.
Kerry also said the US would continue to pursue the current track of negotiations on Middle East peace, and Washington would support economic transformation in Egypt.
Saudi Arabia is angry that the US has not pushed Israel hard enough to stop settlement construction and that it did not back Egypt's military after it ousted a Muslim Brotherhood government in July.