U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in Saudi Arabia for talks with Saudi and Gulf Arab officials, said Monday the window of opportunity for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear problem "cannot by definition remain open indefinitely."
But Kerry, who was meeting in Riyadh with the foreign ministers of Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman as well as the Saudi crown prince and foreign minister, added that "there is time to resolve this issue providing the Iranians are prepared to engage seriously" on proposals to defuse it.
"But talks will not go on for the sake of talks and talks cannot become an instrument for delay that will make the situation more dangerous," he said. Kerry said he and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal "discussed our shared determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
Saud said that Saudi Arabia "supports the efforts to resolve the crisis diplomatically in order to alleviate all doubts surrounding the program."
"Therefore, we hope that the negotiations will result in putting an end to this problem rather than containing it," he said, "taking into account that the clock is ticking and negotiations cannot go on forever."
In addition to Iran, Kerry, who is on his first overseas trip as secretary of state after succeeding Hillary Rodham Clinton, also held discussions about the situation in violence-torn Syria. He repeated U.S. pressure on Syria's President Bashar Assad to step down, saying that Assad "is destroying his country — and his people in the process — to hold onto power that is not his anymore."
"The United States will continue to work with our friends to empower the Syrian opposition to hopefully be able to bring about a peaceful resolution, but if not, to increase pressure on Assad," he said. The United States last week agreed to increase non-lethal aid to Syrian opposition groups.
Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf states are believed to be involved in shipping weapons to Syrian rebels, who have yet to receive lethal aid from the West. They share deep U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions and increasing assertiveness in the region.
Saud said that in the talks here Monday, "The Kingdom stressed the importance of enabling the Syrian people to exercise its legitimate right to defend itself against the regime's killing regime."
"Saudi Arabia will do everything within its capacity, and we do believe that what is happening in Syria is a slaughter," he said, "... and we can't bring ourselves to remain quiet. Morally we have a duty."
Kerry also was to meet in Riyadh with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is visiting the Saudi capital. Kerry's working lunch with Abbas was coming two weeks before the secretary is to accompany President Barack Obama to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan to explore ways of restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Kerry travels next to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar before returning to Washington Wednesday.