By Jamie Crawford
Secretary of State John Kerry says relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia are strong despite reports the Saudis are looking to de-emphasize its alliance with Washington.
"I have great confidence that the United States and Saudi Arabia will continue to be the close and important friends and allies that we have been," Kerry told reporters on Tuesday in London on the sidelines of a conference about the international response to the civil war in Syria.
Kerry was responding to questions based on a report from Reuters that quoted Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, telling European diplomats the kingdom would be making a "major shift" in relations with Washington over perceived inaction towards the carnage in Syria, and a possible rapprochement with Iran over its nuclear program.
The comments were noteworthy coming from Bandar, who served as the kingdom's ambassador to Washington for many years and enjoyed warm relations with both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Sunni Saudi Arabia is wary of any rise in influence by the Shiite theocracy of Iran across the Middle East, and has pushed behind the scenes for greater U.S. involvement in Syria, whose president Bashar al-Assad is propped up by the regime in Tehran.
The civil war in Syria is exacerbating sectarian tensions across the region with many analysts warning of a dangerous spill-over across Syria's borders.
"We know that the Saudis were obviously, you know, disappointed that the strike didn't take place," Kerry said in reference to the buildup to a U.S.-led strike on Syria over the regime's use of chemical weapons.
The drive for military action to punish al-Assad for alleged chemical weapons use was set aside when diplomatic efforts took root to get Syria to turn its chemical arms over to international control.
"It is our obligation to work closely with them as I am doing," Kerry said referencing multiple meetings he had on Monday with Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal in Paris. "The president asked me to come and have the conversations that we have had."
Kerry said he had a "very frank conversation" with Faisal about the concern over Iran's nuclear program, and reaffirmed President Barack Obama's commitment that the United States would never allow Iran to attain a nuclear weapon.
Saudi Arabia's concern over the international response to Syria was manifested earlier this week when the kingdom declined a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that was Riyadh's decision to make, and the despite certain "disagreements" between the two, the bilateral relationship would continue to move forward.
In his remarks, Kerry also said the United States and Syria were committed to working toward a restoration of a democratically elected government in Egypt, and shared common views on may other issues facing the Middle East.
"I think there is a clear understanding in our relationship going forward, and I have great confidence that the United States and Saudi Arabia will continue to be the close and important friends and allies that we have been," he said.
Kerry was scheduled to travel from London to Rome where he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discuss ongoing efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.