Saudi King backs Kerry’s Mideast peace push

Kerry said strengthening the U.S.-Saudi partnership was critical to Middle Eastern security and stability

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi King Abdullah on Saturday as part of the U.S. diplomat’s regional talks on the frameworks for a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.

In a statement following their meeting, Kerry said the Arab monarch offered "enthusiastic support" to U.S. efforts to resolve the conflict.

"I want to thank his majesty for ... his enthusiastic support for the efforts that are being made with respect to the peace process," he told reporters after seeing Abdullah at a desert palace outside Riyadh under a winter rainfall.

"Today, his majesty was not just encouraging but supported our efforts in hopes that we can be successful in the days ahead," Kerry added, saying the Saudi ruler believed a peace deal could bring "great benefits" throughout the Middle East.

Kerry said strengthening the U.S.-Saudi partnership was critical to Middle Eastern security and stability and cementing tentative political transitions around the region.

“The two leaders discussed the developments of the Palestinian cause, in addition to the latest regional and international developments,” said an Saudi Press Agency report.

The talks with King Abdullah were attended by top U.S. and Saudi officials, including Prince Saud, Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi ambassador to the U.S., and Timothy Lenderking, U.S. charge d’affaires in Riyadh, according to Saudi-based newspaper Arab News.

On his 10th peace-making trip to the region during the last year, Kerry had tried to establish what U.S. officials call a "framework" for guidelines for any eventual peace accord.

The U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian talks resumed in July after a three-year halt, with Kerry pushing for an accord within nine months despite skepticism on both sides.

Kerry has previously asked Israel to reconsider the 2002 Arab peace plan, originally proposed by King Abdullah, which offers Israel full recognition in return for giving up land it captured in 1967 and a "just" solution for Palestinian refugees.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal also emerged from the desert talks upbeat, calling the rainfall a "great" omen and describing the meeting as "excellent."

"There is really no meeting that could have been smoother and more productive than this meeting," Saud al-Faisal told reporters while seated beside Kerry in an airport reception room.

"It's a meeting that ... belies any bad vibes about relations that were expressed in many of the media lately," he added, referring to widespread reports of U.S.-Saudi strains over U.S. policy toward Iran, Syria and Egypt.

The foreign minister did not specifically echo Kerry's comments about Saudi support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process but he said an agreement that meets the Palestinians' aspirations "will receive the full support of Saudi Arabia."

After four days of intense diplomacy, Kerry was heading home Monday, insisting progress has been made despite failing to agree a framework to guide Israeli-Palestinian talks.

During his tour, Kerry spent hours locked in separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, as well as making a surprise day trip to key Arab allies, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Monday morning, the top U.S. diplomat was briefing Tony Blair, the Middle East special envoy for the Quartet of regional peacemakers, at his Jerusalem hotel as he wrapped up his 10th trip to the region as secretary of state.

Earlier, Kerry met with Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

With the U.S. remaining tight-lipped about the details, little news has filtered out about Kerry's proposals to bridge the huge gaps between the two sides as they seek to draw up the contours of two states living side-by-side.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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