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Kerry Says Syria Peace Talks Will Proceed

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to members of the media at King Salman Regional Air Base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 23, 2016.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday expressed confidence that Syrian peace talks will proceed next week.

Kerry made the comments in the capital of Saudi Arabia, where he plans to meet with members of Syria’s opposition groups.

"We are confident that with good initiative in the next day or so those talks can get going and that the U.N. representative special envoy Staffan De Mistura will be convening people in an appropriate manner for the proximity talks that will be the first meeting in Geneva," he told reporters.

The U.N.-mediated peace talks between Syria’s government and opposition groups were initially scheduled to begin Monday.

However, officials have hinted the talks may be delayed briefly, in part because of disagreements over who will take part.

This represents the third attempt by world powers to get Syrian parties to agree to a negotiated end to the five-year civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people.

The latest effort has been complicated by souring relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, regional powerhouses that support different sides in the Syrian conflict.

Kerry’s trip to Riyadh, which began Saturday, is aimed largely at improving ties between the Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran.

Earlier Saturday, Kerry participated in a forum with members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

The top U.S. diplomat also met with Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, and later will confer with King Salman.

After his meeting with Kerry, Jubeir said he does not foresee the U.S. and Iran drastically improving ties in the near future.

"No, I don't see a coming together of the United States and Iran. Iran remains the world's chief sponsor of terrorism," Jubeir said.

"Overall I think the United States is very aware of the danger of Iran's mischief and nefarious activities... I don't believe the United States is under any illusion as to what type of government Iran is," he said.

Saudi Arabia and many of its Sunni regional allies have long seen Iran as a foe, but relations have deteriorated drastically in recent weeks.

The situation worsened earlier this month after Saudi Arabia executed dissident Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who had encouraged protests opposing the Saudi government.

In response to the execution, protesters in Tehran attacked the Saudi embassy, prompting Riyadh and some of its allies to cut or downgrade diplomatic relations.

Many Sunni nations were already wary that the Iran nuclear deal will provide Tehran with billions of dollars in economic relief and could lead to improved ties with the West.

Kerry flew to Saudi Arabia from Switzerland, where he participated in an annual World Economic Forum. Later, he will head to Laos, Cambodia and China.