independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Kerry hails Saudi Middle East role

US secretary of state John Kerry meets with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Riyadh (AP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry has hailed Saudi Arabia's role as "the senior player" in the Middle East.

Speaking to employees at the US Embassy in Riyadh ahead of meetings with Saudi's king and foreign minister, Kerry said the country had assumed the Arab leadership from Egypt, which is currently distracted by domestic uncertainty.

He said strengthening the US-Saudi partnership is critical to security and stability in the Middle East and cementing tentative political transitions around the region.

Saudi officials have expressed unhappiness with Washington's actions in Syria, its relations with Iran and stance on Egypt's political turmoil, something Kerry has acknowledged in the past but played down as differences in "tactics".

"Right now, we have some very important things to talk about to make certain that the Saudi Arabian-US relationship is on track, moving forward and doing the things that we need to accomplish," Kerry said.

The Saudis have complained that the United States did not follow through on its threat to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad with military strikes for his government's use of chemical weapons.

Last month, the Saudis won but turned down an elected seat on the UN Security Council, saying the body had proved itself largely meaningless because of its inability over two years to address the crisis in Syria.

The Saudis have also watched on with nervousness as President Barack Obama has approved a cautious opening with Iran.

Eager to soothe the frustration, Kerry was effusive in his praise of the Saudis, noting a slow, but steady domestic transformation with new emphasis on education and health.

He did not specifically refer to recent protests against restrictions on women being able to drive but noted that people who live in the country can see that "there are things that are changing."

"It doesn't happen overnight, it takes time," he said.

On the regional strategic issues of particular interest to the United States, Saudi Arabia is now the major Arab power, Kerry said.

"The Saudis have the ability to be able to influence a lot of the things that we also care about," he said before meeting with Saudi King Abdullah and foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

"The Saudis are very, very important to all of these things. The Saudis are really the sort of senior player, if you will, in the Arab world, together with Egypt. Egypt is in more of a transition, so Saudi Arabia's role is that much more important."

AP

Press Association

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