Syria, Iran top agenda as Kerry meets wary Arabs in Saudi


The official said Kerry had emphasized to the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers the importance of reconciliation and that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who visited Riyadh this week, also discussed this with Saudi authorities.

Those feelings crystallised with a historic worldwide deal which this month lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in return for a scaling back of its nuclear capabilities.

"We understand the Saudi anger over the attack on their facilities in Iran", a senior US State Department official said before Kerry's arrival.

He also took a swipe at Iran by noting that in the prisoner swap that resulted in the release of four imprisoned Americans in Iran, none of the seven Iranians cleared of charges in the United States opted to return to Iran.

"The United States will stand with them against any external threat and defend if necessary together with them against those threats", Kerry (pictured left) said at a press conference held alongside Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair.

"The United States remains concerned about some of the activities that Iran is engaged in in other countries", Kerry told reporters, citing as an example Iran's "support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah" in Lebanon.

Rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran accuse one another of stirring up instability in the Middle East. They support opposing sides in the wars in Yemen and Syria.

Iran and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties in early January after Riyadh executed Shiite cleric Sheikh al-Nimr which sparked anti-Saudi demonstrations in Tehran and the ransacking of its embassy.

"There is no sudden transformation in these other concerns", he said of Iran.

Kerry has long sought to reassure his Gulf allies about the overtures to Iran, and will continue those efforts in Riyadh.

A Saudi-backed Syrian opposition coalition says it will not hold peace talks with the Syrian government unless Russian airstrikes stop.

"The statement has turned a blind eye to the realities of Saudi embassy event and Iranian government's speedy measures in providing security restoring calm and detaining those responsible for the event", said Hossein Jaberi Ansari.

The US is gearing up for its first major snowstorm this year as tens of millions of people can be affected by snow drifts and high winds.

They said the US and the GCC agreed on the need to confront destabilizing Iranian activities in the region and on an unspecified "understanding" that will allow the U.N.-led Syria negotiations to begin next week as planned.

"None of us are under any illusions that obstacles don't still exist to trying to seek a political settlement in Syria", Kerry said.

Kerry is in Saudi Arabia days several ahead of much-anticipated intra-Syria talks mediated by the United Nations.