US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday aiming to ease relations facing strain over the Syrian conflict and Iran. It is the second stop on Kerry's regional tour, following an unscheduled visit to Egypt a day earlier.
US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, on Monday in a bid to smooth out US-Saudi relations, strained by the Syrian conflict and Iran.
This visit to a longstanding US ally is the second stop on his regional tour, following an unscheduled stop in Egypt, Kerry’s first since the ousting of former president Mohammed Morsi.
The tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia largely stem from Saudi Arabia’s longtime rivalry with Iran and the popular revolts that have both destabilised the region and toppled the regimes of many of Saudi Arabia’s former allies.
One such regional turbulence is the war in Syria, which has left more than 120,000 people dead. Saudi Arabia is one of the main backers of the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In protest at the world’s inaction on the war, Saudi Arabia recently turned down a coveted non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Saudi Arabia is equally frustrated at the US’s failure to move on the Syrian issue, especially as it fears that Syrian peace talks could lead to a Tehran-backed regime in Damascus.
Saudi Arabia is also worried about the possibility of a rapprochement between the US and Iran after the recent breakthrough in nuclear negotiations and a landmark phone call between Obama and Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, in September.
Syria on the agenda
Kerry was scheduled to meet Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Sunday, as well as Saudi King Abdullah on Monday.
In response to Saudi Arabia’s concerns, ensuring support for the Syrian opposition is expected to be high on the agenda. Kerry, his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi are currently working to convene peace talks in Geneva aimed at bringing in a transitional government in Syria. Kerry maintained that, whatever their differences over the details, both the US and its allies were seeking a transition of power in Syria.
Despite tensions, relations between the US and Saudi Arabia are apparently still strong.
“Despite the Saudi outcry, the bedrock of US and Saudi ties—intelligence coordination and military containment of Iran—is solid,” Frederic Wehrey, senior associate in the Middle East programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote.
US will cooperate with Egypt, Kerry says
Kerry’s six-hour visit to Cairo came just before the trial of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, set to begin Monday. Kerry met with leaders of the interim government.
While Kerry stressed that the US would cooperate with the current leaders, he also spoke of the need for the country to move towards democracy and warned that politically motivated trials “are not acceptable” to the US.
He also denied that Washington’s decision to suspend $1.5 billion in annual aid to Cairo was made to punish the current military government.
In a press conference held in Cairo before his departure for Riyadh, Kerry reaffirmed his commitment to helping to stabilise the region, still reeling from the long-reaching consequences of the Arab Spring and struggling to fight the internal development of various extremist factions, notably in Syria and Libya.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-11-04