Kerry rounds off 2016 with visit to Saudi Arabia

Sunday 25/12/2016
US Secretary of State John Kerry

Riyadh - US Secretary of State John Kerry rounded off 2016 with a visit to Ri­yadh to reaffirm Saudi- American ties ahead of a Trump presidency and uncer­tainties over Washington’s future stance regarding the region.

“In turbulent times, it’s good to have solid friends. That’s why the United States’ partnership with Saudi Arabia is rightly so valuable,” Kerry said.

Kerry met with Saudi King Sal­man bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as well as the two crown princes and other senior officials. He earlier met with senior Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials, including Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah.

The United States has been one of Saudi Arabia’s closest allies in the Yemen conflict, which saw Iran-backed Houthi rebels take over large parts of the country in 2015 before they were stopped by a Sau­di-led Gulf alliance.

“We are also concerned about the security of the kingdom and we want to bring the Yemen war to a close in a way that protects the se­curity of Saudi Arabia,” Kerry said.

Yemen was high on the agenda during what will likely be Kerry’s last visit to Saudi Arabia as secre­tary of State before he is replaced by the next administration. US President-elect Donald Trump has nominated ExxonMobil Chief Ex­ecutive Officer Rex Tillerson for the position.

Kerry said he was optimistic that a ceasefire could be reached by the end of the year thanks to the efforts of the Yemen Quartet — the United States, Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. This would be the eighth ceasefire since hostilities escalated.

“The failure to achieve a lasting cessation of hostilities is disturbing to all of us,” Kerry said.

A road map to peace in Yemen, put forward in October, could lead to the end of hostilities between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led Gulf coalition. The plan calls for the Houthis to surren­der their heavy arms and with­draw from Sana’a and other cities under their control. While Yem­eni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi would step down in favour of an unnamed vice-president who would appoint a new prime minis­ter to form a unity government.

Hadi has expressed unwilling­ness to step down and the Houthis have formed a “national salvation” government, a move that further complicated negotiations. Hadi has reportedly balked at the prospect of appointing Abdul Khaliq al-Houthi — brother of Houthi leader Abdul­malik al-Houthi — as commander of the Republican Guards’ reserve forces.

Kerry, with less than a month be­fore the end of his tenure, stressed that the United States will “remain engaged” in the search for peace in Yemen under the new administra­tion.

“We think we’ve found a path that can move forward and we in­vite the parties — President Hadi, the Houthis — and their supporters, both sides, to take advantage of this moment,” Kerry said.

Security continued to deteriorate across Yemen, with neither side able to devote adequate resources to security while the fighting goes on. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) have taken advantage of the security vacuum to secure a dan­gerous presence in the Arabian Pen­insula country.

An ISIS suicide attack on Al Sol­ban military base in the southern port city of Aden killed at least 52 soldiers on December 18th. An at­tack by ISIS on the same camp — just one week earlier — resulted in the deaths of 48 soldiers.

Kerry also met with Saudi For­eign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who has been lobbying US officials to amend the controversial Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which allows survivors of terrorist attacks and relatives of terrorism victims to pursue cases against foreign governments in US federal court.

“We believe the law, that curtails sovereign immunities, represents a grave danger to the international system,” Jubeir said during a news conference with Kerry.

“The United States is, by eroding this principle [of sovereign immu­nity], opening the door for other countries to take similar steps and then before you know it interna­tional order becomes governed by the law of the jungle,” Jubeir added.