Kerry Sets Stage for Obama Visit to UN With Mideast Meetings

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry laid the groundwork for President Barack Obama’s speech at the United Nations tomorrow by meeting with Arab officials to discuss Syria, Egypt, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Kerry is in New York this week to join diplomats and world leaders who are taking up issues from development and disease to global conflict at the annual opening of the UN General Assembly. The bulk of his time and attention may be focused on tensions between the U.S. and Russia over terms for Syria’s handover of its chemical weapons.

The top U.S. diplomat held one-on-one meetings yesterday evening with officials from Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Kerry reaffirmed the importance of the U.S. insistence on a binding, verifiable removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, according to a State Department official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Russia has rejected a U.S. and European plan to call for enforcement, including the possible use of military force, in a UN Security Council resolution on the handover and destruction of the chemical arsenal held by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal emphasized his country’s support for U.S. efforts on Syria’s chemical weapons, the State Department official said.

Discussed Iran

The two also discussed Iran, the official said, with Kerry reassuring the minister that U.S. policy is to use the dual tracks of diplomacy and economic sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. New Iranian President Hassan Rohani is scheduled to speak at the UN tomorrow after winning election on a vow to improve relations with the world.

In a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Kerry discussed the rising number of extremist groups in Syria and the danger they pose to Syria, Jordan and the region, according to the official.

Kerry’s discussion with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy concentrated on the the need to show progress toward a democratic transition after the military-led ouster of elected President Mohamed Mursi if the U.S.-Egypt relationship is to prosper, the official said.

Kerry didn’t raise the prospect of U.S. military aid to Egypt being cut or canceled, the official said, though the Obama administration has said it is reviewing its support. Kerry told Fahmy that Congress, which oversees the aid, wanted to see progress, the official said.

Kerry also raised concerns about the numbers of Egyptians arrested and how their cases will be dealt with, as well as the challenges facing civil society groups in Egypt, the official said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Gaouette in New York at ngaouette@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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