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Kerry seeks to ease Saudi concerns over Syria, Iran

Update: November, 04/2013 - 11:57

RIYADH – Secretary of State John Kerry is seeking to repair frayed ties with Saudi Arabia over the Syrian conflict and Iran, after making his first visit to Egypt since the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

The top US diplomat landed in Riyadh late on Sunday on the second stop of an 11-day trip which has become an exercise in damage control, as the regional turbulence unleashed by the Arab Spring stirs tensions with longtime US partners.

The conservative oil-rich kingdom has grown increasingly nervous over the past two years as popular revolts have toppled onetime allies in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen and spread turmoil across the region.

In an unprecedented move last month, Saudi turned down a coveted non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in protest at the world body's failure to end the war in Syria, which has left over 120,000 people dead.

Earlier on Sunday in Cairo, Kerry acknowledged that while there might be differences over "tactics" in ending the Syrian conflict, the goal for the United States and its allies was the same – a transition of power.

US backs Egypt's interim rulers

Kerry was in the Egyptian capital to meet with the country's interim rulers and urge them to press ahead with reforms and restore democracy.

"We are committed to work with and we will continue our cooperation with the interim government," Kerry told a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, stressing that ensuring stability was the key to revitalising Egypt's economic growth.

While he did not raise the case against Morsi whose trial opens Monday, Kerry repeatedly called for inclusiveness, US officials said, and warned that politically motivated trials "are not acceptable" to the United States.

Kerry – who in a rare move among allies slipped into Egypt unannounced and stayed for only about six hours – also played down Washington's suspension last month of part of $1.5 billion in annual US aid to Cairo.

He denied the decision had been taken to punish Egypt's military leaders and said it "is a very small issue between us."

Saudi Arabia, one of the main backers of the Syrian opposition, was reportedly angered when US President Barack Obama last month put on hold threatened military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Kerry also said the US would stick with its friends as they navigate the turmoil unleashed by the Arab Spring, which has led to the rise of powerful new extremist groups in Libya and Syria. AFP

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