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Fearful of Iran's influence, Saudi king reaches out to Syria

Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, has switched from a policy of isolation toward engagement. Some hope the warming could bolster US Middle East peace efforts.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah greets guests at the opening of a university of science and technology in his name on Sept. 23.

Scott Nelson/AP

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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia arrived here Wednesday to mend fences with Syria and strengthen regional cooperation in a move that some hope could advance President Barack Obama's Middle East peace plans.

The two day visit by the king – his first since he took power in 2005 – will focus on unrest in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, where political rivals backed by the two countries are wrangling over power. The Saudi monarch and close US ally is also seeking to nudge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of Iran's diplomatic orbit toward closer cooperation with fellow Arab states.

The visit is the latest sign of a thaw in relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia, which went into deep freeze after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Mr. Hariri was a close friend of the king's family, and Saudi Arabia and many others believe that Syria ordered his murder, a charge Damascus has denied.

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