Kerry, Salman discuss Syria in Jeddah

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah, May 15, 2016. (AFP photo)

US secretary of State John Kerry has met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia to discuss the Syrian conflict, before heading to Vienna for broader international talks.

"I want to thank you for the many things that Saudi Arabia is working on with us to great effect," Kerry told Salman at the beginning of their closed-door meeting in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Sunday.

The two discussed mutual cooperation and the latest developments in the Middle East, including the US-Russia mediated ceasefire in Syria which has been undermined by militants in some areas, local media reported.

Washington and Moscow agreed earlier this month on extending a “cessation of hostilities” they had brokered in February to Aleppo, which has been divided between government forces in the west and foreign-backed militants in the east since 2012.

However, reports on Thursday suggested that militants from two major Syrian militant groups, namely al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, carried out a massive dawn raid on Zara, south of Hama, looted homes, killed children, women and elderly and abducted a number of people.

Kerry said on Friday that in his meetings with the king and the Saudi interior and defense ministers he would try "to make sure that we can get this cessation better footed and, frankly, better observed and implemented throughout the country."

The US, Saudi Arabia and a number of other Western countries, along with Persian Gulf monarchies and Turkey back terrorist groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Kerry also met with his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir, on Sunday and went on to later meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz.

The top US diplomat would depart Saudi Arabia to join the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG) who will convene in Vienna on Tuesday to discuss the stalled peace talks.

The latest round of the UN-brokered indirect negotiations, which began in Geneva on April 13, were brought to a halt after the main foreign-backed opposition group, known as the High Negotiations Committee, (HNC) walked out of the discussions to protest what it called the Syrian government’s violation of the ceasefire.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has also displaced over half of the Arab country's pre-war population of about 23 million.

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