Kerry adds stop in UAE to his marathon tour on Syria war
KUWAIT CITY - US Secretary of State John Kerry will go to the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, adding a stop to his marathon tour aimed at coordinating support for Syria's rebels, an official said.
Kerry, who arrived in Kuwait on Tuesday evening after a lightning stop in Saudi Arabia, will visit Abu Dhabi to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahayan, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
He has been touring Sunni Arab states, which are mostly opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in the wake of President Barack Obama's decision to expand US support for the rebels.
The United States took the decision after concluding that Assad defied warnings and used chemical weapons, but Obama remains wary of a large US involvement in an increasingly sectarian conflict that has claimed nearly 100,000 lives.
Kerry will stop in Abu Dhabi between visits to Jordan, where he will make his latest attempt to encourage the Middle East peace process, and the Southeast Asian petro-state of Brunei, where he will attend an Asian conference.
He is likely to hold tense talks in Brunei with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Russia is a key supporter of Assad and has entered a new showdown with Washington after Edward Snowden, a former contractor who leaked details of US surveillance, flew to Moscow in hopes of reaching asylum in Latin America.
During his trip, Kerry also visited Qatar, a top supporter of the Syrian rebels, and India, where he pledged a new effort to build relations between the world's two largest democracies.
The Abu Dhabi crown prince visited Washington in April, where he spoke to Obama about the Syrian crisis.
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday pressed for global action to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, telling US Secretary of State John Kerry that the civil war had turned into "genocide".
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told Kerry that Assad, a secular leader who belongs to the heterodox Alawite sect, has waged "unprecedented genocide" through the more than two-year conflict that has claimed nearly 100,000 lives.
"The kingdom demands a clear, unequivocal international resolution that bans any sort of weapons support for the Syrian regime and declares null and void the legitimacy of that regime," Faisal said at a joint news conference.
"The regime's illegitimacy eliminates any possibility of it being part of any arrangement or playing any role whatsoever in shaping the present and future," he said.
Faisal also voiced dismay at the role of Iran, which has poured assistance to Assad to save its main Arab ally. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim backed by Iran, has increasingly fought alongside government forces in Syria.
"Along with the regime's genocide against its own people, this adds an even deadlier element in the form of an all-out foreign invasion," Faisal said of Iran's role.
Despite Faisal's stance, Kerry said that the United States supported an agreement last year in Geneva that would create a transitional government that includes both the rebels and regime, although not Assad himself.
"We believe that the best solution is a political solution in which the people of Syria have an opportunity to be able to make a choice about their future," Kerry said.
"We believe that every minority can be respected, there can be diversity and pluralism and that the people can do so in a climate of peace," he said.
Saudi Arabia, while a longstanding US ally, practices a puritanical form of Wahhabi Islam. US officials have in the past voiced concern about money from Gulf Arabs funding Sunni hardliners in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.
Kerry also paid his day trip to Jeddah to compare notes on the Middle East peace process -- one of his key priorities -- and on the chaotic politics of Egypt, where Saudi Arabia is considered to hold key influence.