US Secretary of State John Kerry praised Saudi Arabia as a “very, very important” ally yesterday as he visited the Gulf kingdom on a mission to soothe strains in the relationship over US policy on Iran, Syria and the Palestinian issue.
Kerry, who is touring the region after a flurry of signals from the kingdom that it dislikes Washington’s recent approach, met Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud yesterday morning and later began talks with King Abdullah.
“We have very important things to talk about to make sure the Saudi-US relationship is on track, rolling forward and doing things that we need to accomplish,” Kerry said in remarks to staff from the US embassy. “The Saudis are very, very important to all of us. The Saudis are really the senior player in the Arab world, together with Egypt.”
Riyadh, Washington’s main Arab ally, is angry over what is sees as a weak foreign policy on the part of US President Barack Obama’s administration, which has allowed Israel to continue building settlements in the Palestinian territories and conflict to persist in Syria.
Saudi concerns are also partly founded on a fear that Obama’s moves to reduce tensions with Iran will give Riyadh’s main regional adversary an opportunity to extend its influence in Arab countries.
Speaking before his meeting with the foreign minister, Kerry reiterated that the US was determined that Iran would not get a nuclear weapon. Tehran says it is enriching uranium only for civilian energy purposes.
In the most senior levels of Saudi government, princes are also exasperated by US reluctance to back Egypt’s military in July after it overthrew elected president Mohamed Morsi.
Saudi royals were also disappointed by Kerry’s efforts in bringing about an agreement to disarm Syria’s chemical arsenal in August after a gas attack in Damascus, Alani said.
In addition to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Kerry will make stops in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco, before heading to Poland for talks on trade ties, as well as plans to base a US missile defence system there in 2018.
He was to fly in to Poland from Saudi Arabia late yesterday against a backdrop of European anger over revelations of US spying. Kerry acknowledged last week for the first time that in some cases, US spying had gone too far.