Saudi, U.S. defense chiefs focus on Syria crisis at meeting in Washington

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz held talks at the Pentagon on Wednesday that focused mainly on the crisis in Syria, as the Saudi Arabia and the United States both affirmed their “strong and enduring” partnership.

Saudi Arabian Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meet in Washington.

The meeting between the defense officials came hours before a ceasefire deadline in Syria was due to expire.

“Clearly both countries share a concern about what’s happening in that country,” press secretary George Little told reporters after Prince Salman and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met.

The Saudis have called for arming rebels fighting the regime in Syria but the United States has been willing only to provide “non-military” assistance to the opposition in the form of radio equipment.

Pentagon officials could not confirm whether the talks between Panetta and Prince Salman touched on possibly arming the rebel fighters.

But U.S. policy is focused on diplomacy “to put political and economic pressure on the regime to try to stop the violence against civilians in that country,” Little said.

The Saudi minister also met with President Barack Obama during his trip to Washington, White House officials said.

“The president and Prince Salman affirmed the strong and enduring partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia and discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues,” the statement from the White House said.

Prince Salman earlier held talks with General James Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command who oversees troops in the Middle East, according to the Saudi embassy.

The meetings came as Syria announced it would cease military action against rebel forces starting Thursday, the deadline set by peace envoy Kofi Annan for a halt to 13 months of fighting that left over 9,000 dead.

Although Annan said he had received a written pledge from Damascus, top U.S. officials expressed skepticism after regime forces pounded protest centers on Wednesday, killing 14 civilians, according to monitors.

Prince Salman and Panetta also discussed political change in the Middle East and North Africa, Iran, Yemen, the “common threat of terrorism,” the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and “ways of deepening U.S.-Saudi defense cooperation,” Little said.

Prince Salman was appointed defense minister in October after the death of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who previously held the post.

Before flying to Washington, he paid a visit to Britain, the Saudi official SPA news agency reported.

Source: Al-Arabiya

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