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Kerry lands in Saudi to ease tension over Syria, Iran

RIYADH (AFP) – Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Saudi Arabia Sunday hoping to repair ties with America s longstanding ally, which have frayed over the Syrian conflict and US outreach to Iran.

The top US diplomat was already 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.

Saudi Arabia, locked in a decades-long rivalry with Iran, is concerned that proposed Syrian peace talks could leave a Tehran-backed regime in Damascus and that a breakthrough in nuclear negotiations could lead to a US rapprochement with Iran.

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

Riyadh, 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 regime.

While acknowledging that “some countries” wanted the United States to act differently on Syria, Kerry insisted that “differences on individual tactics on policy do not mean a difference on (the) fundamental goal of the policy.”

“We all share the same goal … that is the salvation of the state of Syria and a transition government put in place … that can give the people of Syria the opportunity to choose their future,” Kerry said during a press conference with Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy.

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.

“We will be there for Saudi Arabia, for the Emirates, for Qataris, for the Jordanians, for the Egyptians and others. We will not allow those countries to be attacked from outside. We will stand with them,” he told reporters.

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