Kerry, mending fences, lauds Saudi as senior Arab player

By Lesley Wroughton and Angus McDowall

RIYADH (Reuters) - Calling Saudi Arabia "the senior player in the Arab world", U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met its foreign minister on Monday before talks with King Abdullah in the latest stop on a tour partly aimed at easing tensions with major Arab powers.

Saudi Arabia, Washington's main Arab ally, is angry with Washington over what it sees as a weak foreign policy that it believes has allowed Israeli settlement building to continue in the Palestinian territories and conflict to persist in Syria.

Saudi concerns are partly founded on a fear that U.S. President Barack Obama's moves to thaw tensions with Iran will give Riyadh's main regional foe an opportunity to extend its influence in Arab countries.

Speaking shortly before his meeting with foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Kerry reiterated that the United States was determined that Iran would not get a nuclear weapon.

He added in remarks to U.S. Embassy staff in Riyadh that Washington's relationship with the Saudis was an important one as the region faces challenges from the transition in Egypt to civil war in Syria.

"We have very important things to talk about to make sure the Saudi-US relationship is on track, rolling forward and doing things that we need to accomplish," Kerry said before his meeting with the king.

(Editing by William Maclean and Angus MacSwan)