Kerry to visit Saudi Arabia on Friday to discuss Iraq and Syria

BRUSSELS Wed Jun 25, 2014 12:13pm EDT

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Saudi Arabia on Friday to meet King Abdullah and discuss the crises in Iraq and Syria, he said at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

Kerry last visited the world's top oil exporter in late March alongside U.S. President Barack Obama. He will most likely meet the Saudi monarch in Jeddah, where the kingdom's government is based during summer months.

"President Obama has asked me to travel to Saudi Arabia in order to meet with His Majesty King Abdullah and to discuss regional issues, including the situation in Iraq, and how we can counter the shared threat that is posed by ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), as well as to discuss our support for the moderate opposition in Syria," he said. The United States and Saudi Arabia have both been alarmed by the success of ISIL after its jihadists captured swathes of northern Iraq alongside an amalgam of Sunni tribal and Islamist militias and members of the former ruling Baath party.

However, officials from Saudi Arabia, which has long complained that Iraq's Sunnis are marginalized by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said they oppose foreign intervention in Iraq after Baghdad requested U.S. air strikes on ISIL.

Riyadh has been at odds with its main Western ally over its Middle East policy since the start of the 2011 Arab uprisings, and had previously criticised the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 as strengthening its main regional rival Iran.

(Reporting By Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams)

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