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Kerry Talks Regional Issues With Gulf Arab Leaders

  • Elizabeth Arrott

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah at a hotel in Riyadh, March 4, 2013.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah at a hotel in Riyadh, March 4, 2013.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says there is a “finite amount of time” for talks on Iran's nuclear program.

Kerry made the warning during talks with Gulf Arab leaders Monday, as he continues his first overseas trip as America's top diplomat.

The West is seeking assurances Iran is not pursuing nuclear weaponry.

"That is a threat that extends all throughout the region and in fact globally because of the issue of non-proliferation," Kerry said.

Speaking in Riyadh with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal a week after international talks with Iran in Kazakhstan seemed to offer little breakthrough -- Kerry said discussions are not open-ended.

"Talks will not go on for the sake of talks," he said. "And talks cannot become an instrument for delay that, in the end, make the situation more dangerous. So there is a finite amount of time."

But such statements have not quelled concerns among Gulf Arabs who consider Iran their biggest threat.

“The United States had a major failure in North Korea, in preventing North Korea to develop its nuclear power and we don't want to see that again repeated in our region," said Mustafa Alani, a senior adviser at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh. "And really we have a major concern that the U.S. cannot be as firm as required in this issue.”

Kerry on offensive

Kerry remained on the offensive toward Iran during his visit, criticizing it and others, including Russia, for providing weapons to the Syrian government.

Syria deaths from conflict, updated March 4, 2013

Syria deaths from conflict, updated March 4, 2013

Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are backing Syria's opposition, though the U.S. has limited its support to the rebels to non-lethal aid.

The U.S. secretary of state also met Monday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was on a coinciding visit to Riyadh to meet King Abdallah.

The lunch meeting was added to Kerry's schedule at the last minute and reportedly focused on efforts to resume the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians and on U.S. President Barack Obama's planned visit to the region later this month.

Despite Kerry's high profile diplomacy in the region, researcher Alani sees the U.S. in a general retreat, whether in helping Iraq rebuild after the war, or pushing for greater progress on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

“This is our perception at least the U.S. is reducing its commitment to the region," Alani said. "I mean this is a major concern for the region because again the question of Iranian interventionist policy, the question of Israelis not helping the peace process, and the Arab Spring constitute a major issue of instability.”

Alani said the Gulf needs to rejuvenate its long-standing strategic alliance with the the U.S.

Saudi Arabia is the seventh country Kerry visited on his inaugural tour as secretary of state. He finishes the trip with meetings in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

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