Kerry at a news conference in Paris.
US tries to calm Saudi anger over Syria, Iran
Paris, October 22, 2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry has sought to calm rising tensions with Saudi Arabia, which has spurned a UN Security Council seat in fury at inaction over the crisis in Syria.
Saudi Arabia rejected a coveted two-year term on the council on Friday in a rare display of anger over what it called "double standards" at the UN. Its stance won praise from its Gulf allies and Egypt.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal hosted a lunch for Kerry at his private residence in Paris on Monday. US officials said Washington and Riyadh shared the goals of a nuclear-free Iran, an end to Syria's civil war and a stable Egypt.
A senior State Department official told reporters after the lunch that Kerry cited the advantages of being on the 15-member body, which can authorise military action, impose sanctions and set up peacekeeping operations.
"Secretary Kerry conveyed that while it is Saudi Arabia's decision to make, the US values Saudi Arabia's leadership in the region and the international community," the US official said.
"A seat on the UNSC affords member states the opportunity to engage directly," the official added.
The council has been paralysed over the 31-month-old Syria conflict, with permanent members Russia and China repeatedly blocking measures to condemn Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a longtime ally of Riyadh's regional arch-rival Iran.
Riyadh's frustration with Russia and China now extends to the US, not only over Syria, but also over Washington's acquiescence in the fall of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and its new quest for a nuclear deal with Iran.
No country has previously been elected to the council and then walked away. As an incoming member, Saudi Arabia would have taken up its seat on Jan 1 for a two-year term. Riyadh demanded unspecified reforms in the world's top security institution.
"BRAVE SAUDI POSITION"
Saudi anger boiled over after the US dropped the threat of military strikes in response to a poison gas attack in Damascus in August by agreeing to give up his chemical arsenal.
Saudi Arabia was also concerned about signs of a tentative reconciliation between Washington and Tehran, something Riyadh fears may lead to a "grand bargain" on the Iranian nuclear programme that leaves it at a disadvantage.
Expressions of support for Saudi Arabia from its Gulf allies contained no overt criticism of US policy, but echoed the kingdom's complaints about the Security Council's failure to end the war in Syria and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Kuwait shares Riyadh's pain, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Khaled Al-Jarallah said, citing the "bloody massacres" in Syria and the "suffering of the Palestinian people". He said the Saudi rejection of a council seat had sent a message to the world.
Plaudits also came from Cairo, which was promised billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates in July after the army ousted President Mohamed Mursi. Most Gulf states view his Muslim Brotherhood with suspicion. - Reuters