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US, Saudi Arabia Differ on Tactics, Agree on Goals in Syria

US, Saudi Arabia Differ on Tactics, Agree on Goals in Syria
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal say their countries agree on the goal of removing from power Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But they disagree on how best to do that. Kerry also met Monday Saudi capital with King Abdullah to discuss Syria, Iran, Egypt, and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Foreign Minister Saud says the media make too much of reported differences between Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Following talks Monday in Riyadh, Prince Saud said true relationships are based on sincerity, candor and frankness, so it's only natural that "policies and views might see agreement in some areas and disagreement in others."

U.S. officials traveling with Kerry say Saudi leaders expressed their disappointment at Washington's decision to back off bombing Syrian military targets in favor of a plan to remove the country's chemical weapons. For Riyadh, Prince Saud says, intervening militarily is a moral imperative.

"If one is choosing a moral choice to intervene or not to intervene, what is that choice going to be? Do I let the tragedy continue or do I help if I can?" asked Saud.

Saudi Arabia is helping arm the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting President Assad.

Kerry said the Obama administration prefers a negotiated solution because the United States does not have "the legal authority or the justification or the desire at this point to get in the middle of a civil war."

But he too tried to downplay differences over Syria as a matter of tactics, not goals.

"Time and again Saudi Arabia has proven to be an indispensable partner. But an indispensable partner that obviously has independent and important views of its own. And we respect that," said Kerry.

Saudi leaders are wary of improving relations between the United States and Iran. In particular, they are concerned about Iran's support for Syrian President Assad and its efforts to escape crippling economic sanctions imposed over fears that Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Prince Saud said Iran's intentions are being tested.

"Right now the most important step it can take to prove its good intentions is to get out of Syria and get its Lebanese ally Hezbollah out of there, too," he said.

Kerry reaffirmed Washington's commitment to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and to defending its allies in the region, regardless of talks this week in Geneva over Iran's nuclear program.

"Nothing that we are doing with respect to this negotiation will alter or upset or get in the way of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and the relationship in this region," he said.

Prince Saud said the international community has failed to protect the rights of Palestinians. Kerry said he briefed the foreign minister and King Abdullah on his efforts to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Saudi Arabia is helping fund a military-backed interim government in Egypt. But the United States is withholding some weapons aid from Cairo over violence that followed July's coup against the country's first democratically elected leader.

Kerry said the United States is working with Saudi Arabia toward an economic transformation in Egypt that will enable a transition to a "stable, inclusive, and democratic civilian-led government."

From Saudi Arabia, Kerry travels to Poland for talks on trade and investment as well as joint military training. On this 10-day trip he also is scheduled to visit Jordan, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Morocco.