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John Kerry: White House Overtures to Iran Have Not Damaged Saudi Ties

The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia remains strong despite Washington’s outreach to the Sunni Kingdom’s regional rival Iran, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir asserted Thursday.

“We agree, first of all, the alliance, the friendship between the United States and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains a lynchpin of our efforts in the region. It’s important. We both agree with that, on both sides,” Kerry told reporters as he welcomed his Saudi counterpart al-Jubeir, reports Agence-France Presse (AFP).

Without specifically mentioning Iran, Kerry reportedly expressed sympathy over Saudi Arabia’s concerns over the Islamic Republic’s influence in the Arab world, noting that the United States shares Saudi Arabia’s anxieties.

“We also understand the challenges that the kingdom and other countries feel in the region about interference in their countries,” declared Kerry. “We want to try to see if there’s a way, moving forward, to resolve some of these problems without moving to greater conflict. The last thing the region needs is more conflict.”

“I know the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia agrees with that. But there are simple things they would like to see done that help prevent that,” he added.

In a letter dated January 14, 50 Republican lawmakers urged Kerry to “reconsider your strategic alignment with the Iranian government and give full support to our Middle Eastern allies,” namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel.

“US Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir insisted Thursday that their countries’ ties remain strong despite recent tensions over Washington’s outreach to Iran,” notes AFP.

“Washington has used the deal, under which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear ambitions in exchange for a softening on sanctions, as a springboard to seek more productive ties with its old foe,” it adds. “But at the same time Riyadh’s relations with Iran, long hostile, have plunged to new lows. Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic contact with Tehran last week after an Iranian mob ransacked its embassy there.”

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have worsened since Riyadh executed prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on terrorism charges earlier this month. The execution has fueled a split across the Muslim World, pitting Sunnis against Shiites, with nations publicly taking sides in the quarrel.

Several of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni allies — including Kuwait, Bahrain, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — either broke or downgraded diplomatic ties with Iran after demonstrators ravaged the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

“Saudi Arabia has regarded Kerry’s cautious outreach to Tehran — and burgeoning relationship with its Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — with suspicion, and the London visit was designed to rebuild trust,” notes AFP.

Kerry and other members of the Obama administration have credited the quick release of 10 U.S. sailors and their two boats captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) this week to the lines of communication that were allegedly opened between Washington and Tehran through the Iran nuclear deal negotiations.

The United States, joining a chorus of critics from the international community who condemned the killing, expressed concern over Saudi Arabia’s execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, warning that it risks worsening sectarian tensions.

“Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s death triggered outrage in Shiite-majority Iran, and the protest led to the sacking of the Saudi embassy, an act Riyadh blamed on Tehran,” reports AFP.

“I think if you look at the challenges our region faces, whether in Syria, whether in Yemen, whether terrorists, whether in Iran’s interference in the affairs of the region, or Libya, the most effective ways for us to work though these challenges is through our close partnership and alliance with the United States of America,” said Al-Jubeir.

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