International pressure increases for an end to Yemen conflict
US calls for immediate cessation of hostilities in the region ahead of planned UN talks
Yemenis carry the coffin of a Houthi militia member killed in ongoing fighting in the war-torn Arab country. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo urged the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to stop launching missile and drone strikes against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But he also called on the Saudi-led coalition to cease all air strikes in populated areas of Yemen.
He said that UN negotiations should begin this month.
Mr Pompeo’s comments were reiterated by defence secretary James Mattis, who told an audience in Washington that “meaningful steps” towards negotiations needed to take place in the next 30 days.
The words of warning from the highest level of the US government reflect a growing sense that the US may be seeking to use leverage against Saudi Arabia following the international outrage over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month.
The Saudis have played a central role in the civil war in Yemen. Together with the UAE, Saudi fighters have been helping to repel Houthi rebels who seized Saana, the capital, in 2015.
While the US has no direct role in the war in Yemen it is an important Saudi ally and provider of arms.
Britain said it supported the United States’s call for a de-escalation of activities, though prime minister Theresa May told parliament on Wednesday that she only backed a cessation of hostilities if there was a political deal between the parties.
Like the United States, Britain is an ally of Saudi Arabia and sells arms to the kingdom.
At least 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in Yemen since the conflict began. The country of 28 million people is already one of the poorest in the world. Saudi Arabia in particular has been criticised for bombing civilian areas.
The brutal killing of Khashoggi has focused world attention on Saudi Arabia, including its role in the Yemeni war, which is approaching its fourth year.
Planned UN-led peace talks in Geneva last month collapsed after the Houthi delegation failed to show up, alleging that the Saudi-led coalition had blocked representatives from travelling to the talks.
The renewed pressure on Saudi Arabia to find a solution to the Yemeni war came as Turkey revealed fresh details of Khashoggi’s killing.
A state prosecutor in Istanbul said on Wednesday that the US resident had been asphyxiated as soon as he entered the Saudi consulate in the city on October 2nd. His body was then dismembered before being disposed of in an unknown location.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the Saudi regime of “playing games” by refusing to disclose information about the location of Khashoggi’s remains.