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Kerry Seeks to Ease Saudi Concerns on Syria, Iran

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Saudi Arabia on a mission to strengthen diplomatic ties frayed by differences over U.S. policy on Syria and Iran.

Kerry arrived late Sunday in Riyadh for talks with Saudi King Abdullah. The U.S. State Department last week described the one-day visit as a mission to "reaffirm the strategic nature of the U.S.-Saudi relationship."

Saudi Arabia, which backs Sunni Muslim-led rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has voiced concern that proposed Syrian peace talks backed by Washington could leave an Iranian-backed regime in power in Damascus. Saudi leaders are also known to be upset over recent U.S. overtures toward strategic Saudi rival Iran.

To underscore those concerns, Saudi Arabia last month rejected a seat on the United Nations Security Council that the United States had supported.

Earlier Sunday in the Egyptian capital, Kerry said the Obama administration understands the security concerns of Sunni nations about Shi'ite Iran and said Washington is committed to "major defensive relationships" in the Middle East.

Kerry also used his six-hour visit to Cairo to reassure Egypt's army-backed government that Washington remains a committed "friend and partner" despite suspending some military aid to Egypt.

The Obama administration last month suspended delivery of Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, after criticizing the Egyptian military for removing the country's first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and replacing him with an interim government.

The aid suspension prompted Foreign Minister Fahmy to say U.S.-Egyptian relations were in turmoil. But Sunday, speaking alongside Kerry, Fahmy said he had received "indications" that relations are returning to normal.

On Monday, ousted president Morsi goes on trial on charges of inciting the killing of anti-Islamist protesters demonstrating outside the presidential palace in December.

Kerry's other stops include Israel and the West Bank, where he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He also is due to visit Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco and Poland.

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