Senator John Kerry Says U.S. Eager to Talk to Syria

Head of Senate Foreign Relations Committee on tour of Mideast; Assad meets Saudi intelligence chief.

U.S. Senator John Kerry is challenging Syria to demonstrate its seriousness about encouraging peace and stability in the Middle East.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee will meet with Syria's president this week on a tour of the region that began Sunday in Egypt.

The U.S. has accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross its border into Iraq, though Syria denies that. Kerry has in the past spoken of his concern about what he said was the flow of money, weapons and terrorists through Syria into Iraq and Lebanon.

In Egypt on Sunday, the senator said the U.S. is eager to talk to Syria, whose president said last month he also wants a dialogue with Washington, but without preconditions.

Syria's Assad meets Saudi intelligence chiefSyrian President Bashar Assad met Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief on Sunday in a rare high-level encounter between the two countries that differ sharply on Arab and regional issues.

Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz gave Assad a message from Saudi King Abdullah about "bilateral ties and the importance of consultation and coordination between the two sides", the official news agency said.

Assad and Abdullah met briefly at a summit in Kuwait in January shortly after the end of Israel's three-week assault on Gaza. Assad said late last month that there have been no practical steps to improve ties since.

Relations between Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and Damascus plummeted over Syria's policy toward Lebanon and Syria's decision to reinforce its alliance with Shi'ite Iran in the last few years.

Damascus and Riyadh back opposing political forces in Lebanon and former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in Beirut in 2005, was well connected with the Saudi monarchy and had Saudi nationality.

A United Nations investigation implicated Syrian security officials in the killing. Damascus denied involvement.

The latest Israeli offensive in Gaza further worsened relations, with Syria supporting the Palestinian group Hamas, which opposes the Saudi- and U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.