Kerry holds Saudi talks ahead of Syria, Libya meetings
JEDDAH – Agence France-PresseU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in Saudi Arabia on May 15 to secure its support ahead of a potential showdown with Russia at talks on the Syrian conflict.
After his Saudi meetings, Kerry was due to fly to Vienna which this week will host the international contact groups engaged in efforts to halt fighting in Syria and Libya.
Kerry met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammed bin Nayef at the royal court in a palace in Jeddah.
“I want to thank you for the many things that Saudi Arabia is working on with us to great effect,” Kerry told King Salman as the pair sat down, before reporters were ushered out.
“On Syria, the secretary provided an update of the situation on the ground following last week’s reaffirmation of the cessation of hostilities,” a U.S. spokesman said.
“The secretary also gave an update on Libya,” he said.
Riyadh is the key backer of rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Kerry is keen to keep the opposition on board with a shaky cease-fire in force since February.
Saudi allies Egypt and the UAE are also major supporters of the administration in eastern Libya which is withholding its support from a U.N.-backed unity government in Tripoli.
In talks with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir, Kerry discussed “regional issues... mainly developments in Syria,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
The monarch discussed “aspects of cooperation between the two countries and developments in the region and efforts in that regards,” SPA reported.
Kerry also discussed cooperation in “fighting terrorism” with the Crown Prince, who is also interior minister.
Bin Nayef had orchestrated the kingdom’s crackdown on Al-Qaeda, which launched a wave of attacks on foreigners and government targets between 2003 and 2006.
After his talks in Vienna, Kerry will fly on to Brussels on May 18 for a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting and talks on the full range of challenges facing the Western allies.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Kerry and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni will jointly host the Libya conflict meeting on May 16.
Participants will “discuss international support for the new Government of National Accord, with a focus on security,” according to U.S. officials.
The unity government was formed after months of negotiation by U.N. mediators in a bid to end the chaos of rival administrations in the east and west of Libya that has undermined the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
After the Libya meeting, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will lead a meeting of the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG).
The ISSG, chaired by Kerry and Lavrov, is pushing Assad’s regime and a coalition of opposition groups to respect the fragile three-month-old ceasefire.
Officials hope next week’s meeting will inject new life into the peace process and - if the cease-fire holds - secure talks on forming a unity government.