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Saudi foreign minister says US relationship 'friendly' in meeting with Kerry

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has told visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry that their countries' relationship was "friendly." He said disagreements over Syrian civil war or Iran were on tactics, not goals.

"There is no room for emotion and anger here, but rather for policies of commonsense and level-headedness," Faisal said on Monday at a joint news conference with Kerry in Riyadh. He added that "our two friendly countries" were working to resolve their differences.

Ahead of the meeting, Kerry told US embassy workers in Riyadh that the two countries "have some very important things to talk about," laying out key issues including Syria, Egypt and Iran, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and ending the "nihilism" that leads to extremist violence.

Diplomatic disagreements

Kerry had arrived in the country amid talk that the US had strained its relationship with one of its closest allies in the region. Saudi Arabia complained at what it sees as Washington's unwillingness to follow through with military threats against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government for its alleged use of chemical weapons.

Saudi Arabia has expressed concern over US attempts to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program diplomatically. Washington and the West accuse the country of attempting to construct a nuclear weapon, but the Tehran denies those allegations, saying its program is for peaceful purposes.

"A true relationship between friends is based on sincerity, candor and frankness, rather than mere courtesy," the prince told his US counterpart, who hailed Saudi Arabia's role as "the senior player" in the Middle East.

"[US-Saudi] relations have always been based on independence and respect and based on serving mutual interest," Faisal added. "Difference is a normal matter, and we seek to mend it through communication between the two nations."

UN row

Last month, Saudi Arabia turned down an elected seat on the UN Security Council, saying the position was meaningless because of the body's inability to address the more-than two-year civil war in Syria.

On Monday, Faisal said that "the kingdom's declination of membership in the Security Council in no way shape or form amounts to the withdrawing from the United Nations," but he also criticized the organization's "failure to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone."

"This time bomb cannot be defused by only dealing with its ramification or maneuvering around it," Faisal said.

In an effort to ease the tension, Kerry praised what he believes is slow and steady progress in a country that continues to be roundly criticized for allegations of human rights abuses, a clamp down on press freedoms and its treatment of women. He did not specifically mention a recent protest against restrictions on women being able to drive, but said that people in the country could see "there are things that are changing" and that reform "doesn't happen overnight."

Kerry's stop in Riyadh is part of an 11-day tour that began in Egypt and will take him to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco, and Poland.

dr/pfd (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)