U.S., Saudi Arabia to Bolster Support for Moderate Syrian Opposition

CAIRO (Reuters) -

The United States and Saudi Arabia agreed to increase support to Syria’s moderate opposition while seeking a political resolution of the four-year conflict, the State Department said after Secretary of State John Kerry met King Salman on Saturday.

Kerry was in Riyadh for meetings with the Saudi monarch, crown prince, deputy crown prince and foreign minister — the last stop in a trip that also included Vienna, where he met counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia.

“They pledged to continue and intensify support to the moderate Syrian opposition while the political track is being pursued,” the State Department statement said after Kerry’s meetings in Saudi Arabia. It did not spell out what kind of support would be offered.

Rebels have appealed for more military support from foreign backers, including Saudi Arabia, to confront major Syrian army offensives. Those offensives are backed by Lebanese Hizbullah and Iranian fighters and Russian air strikes.

Kerry said in Vienna on Friday he expected new talks on Syria to begin as soon as next week. So far, all diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have foundered over the demand by the United States and its allies that Assad leave power, which he refuses to consider.

Saudi Arabia, a strident opponent of Assad, has said he must be removed from power to eliminate the Islamic State. Riyadh has also criticized Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin wanted Syria to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.