Kerry announces new Yemen peace initiative
RIYADH - US Secretary of State John Kerry announced a new peace initiative during a visit to Saudi Arabia to resolve the war in Yemen, including a major concession to the Iran-allied rebels fighting the Saudi-backed internationally recognised government.
Kerry met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz before sessions with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers, British Foreign Office Under-Secretary Tobias Ellwood and UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
The initiative announced by Kerry and endorsed by the United Nations and Gulf Arab states is in effect UN Resolution 2216 but with the incentive of a national unity government to include the Houthis, a major concession by the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
“This war needs to end and it needs to end as quickly as possible,” Kerry said at a news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, adding that there was no military solution.
“We managed to come out with a vision related to a road map for Yemen, which the UN envoy had discussed with us so there will be clarity on the final settlement which the UN envoy will discuss with the Yemeni parties,” Jubeir said.
Kerry said the initiative was unanimously endorsed by GCC leaders and will tackle political and security issues simultaneously. Besides the implementation of UN Resolution 2216, which called for the Houthis to withdraw from areas they occupied during the war and surrender all heavy weaponry, a national unity “government with power shared among the parties” would be established.
Kerry also had harsh words for Iran regarding Tehran’s arming of the Houthis.
“The threat potentially posed by the shipment of missiles and other sophisticated weapons into Yemen from Iran extends well beyond Yemen and is not a threat just to Saudi Arabia and… the region,” Kerry said.
Kerry’s visit comes at a time US-Saudi relations appear to be tested or at least changing.
Washington has significantly cut the number of intelligence advisers assisting the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign in Yemen, from a team of 45 to less than five. US officials denied the downsizing was due to mounting civilian casualties, but said it was because Saudi requests for assistance had been fewer in recent months.
“That’s the main reason behind it and it’s based on the number of requests that we receive from the Saudis.” US Navy 5th Fleet spokesman Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey told Agence France-Presse, adding that if the need arises the numbers could be increased.
Despite working closely on a number of regional issues, including Yemen, Syria and the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), divisions between traditional partners the United States and Saudi Arabia have become more acute, especially with regards to the Iranian nuclear deal. Gulf leaders say the agreement will bolster Tehran, enabling it to increase destabilising activities in the region, such as its arming of Houthi rebels.
Relations were further strained when, in an interview with the Atlantic magazine, US President Barack Obama said Saudi Arabia needed to “share the neighbourhood” with Iran and labelled Gulf allies “free riders”.
The war in Yemen began after the Shia Houthis and their allies overran the capital Sana’a in September 2014, seizing most of the country. Hadi later fled to Saudi Arabia.
An Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States and Britain, began an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015. Arab coalition ground troops later entered the fight. According to UN estimates, more than 6,600 people have been killed in the Yemen war.