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Kerry, Saudi counterpart deny big rift

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By The Washington Post
Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Secretary of State John Kerry and his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, strongly denied any significant breach of the U.S.-Saudi relationship on Monday, while acknowledging differences on tactics, particularly over Syria.

Although he emphasized U.S. commitment to a negotiated settlement in Syria, Kerry said at a news conference with al-Faisal that the United States will “continue to support the opposition” fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

“We will not stand idly by while Assad continues to use weapons enormously disproportionate to those in the possession of the opposition in order to kill ... women and children,” the chief U.S. diplomat said.

Overriding his interpreter to speak in fluent English, al-Faisal said: “If one is making 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?”

Not only are scores of thousands of people being killed, al-Faisal said, but Syria's rich cultural heritage is being destroyed.

Kerry met with Saudi King Abdullah II. Kerry said before the visit that he wanted to “make sure that the Saudi Arabian-U.S. relationship is on track,” despite deep differences over high-profile policy issues in the region, including Syria, Iran and Egypt.

“The Saudis are very, very important to all of these things,” Kerry said during a stop at the U.S. Embassy. “The Saudis have an ability to be able to influence a lot of the things that we also care about and we work together on.”

Kerry's visit to this desert kingdom was hastily appended to a scheduled North Africa trip when the Saudis became increasingly public in their disapproval of the Obama administration's cautious stance toward Syria's civil war, its negotiations with Iran and its failure to fully support the Egyptian military that in the summer overthrew an elected government.

Along with Israel, the Arab nations are concerned that the United States will strike a nuclear deal not to their liking with Iran, Saudi Arabia's main regional rival and Israel's principal outside threat.

From Saudi Arabia, Kerry was to travel Monday evening to Poland. He will return to the Middle East, stopping in the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. Before returning to Washington on Nov. 12, Kerry will visit Algeria and Morocco.

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