Saudi deputy defence minister discusses Yemen, Iran during US visit
LONDON - Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz concluded a 3-day official visit to Washington during which he had high-level talks with US officials that focused on developments in Yemen.
The official Saudi Press Agency said Prince Khalid led a Saudi-delegation for talks at the US State Department with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that centred on the situation in Yemen and on “confronting Iranian hostile activities and in combating extremism and terrorism and the importance of protecting freedom of navigation in international waters.”
The US-Saudi talks come at a time of continued fighting between the internationally recognised government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council (STC).
On August 29, the day Prince Khalid concluded his Washington visit, the STC took control of the interim capital, Aden, after forcing government troops to withdraw from the southern port city after 24 hours of fighting.
Infighting in the anti-Houthi coalition complicates the military dynamics on the ground. The STC is backed by the United Arab Emirates while the government is supported by Saudi Arabia. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have tried to present a unified stance to overcome the issue.
Despite being on the same side in the fight in Yemen against Houthi rebels, the Yemeni government and the southern separatists have different agendas for a post-war Yemen.
For decades, many in southern Yemen have felt exploited by leaders in the north, mainly former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his associates. Anti-Saleh sentiment led to the formation of the Southern Movement in 2007, which has the re-establishment of South Yemen as an independent state as its main goal.
The movement rebranded itself as the STC in 2017, which also saw a revival of the secessionist narrative. This did not sit well with the government of Yemen and led to increased tensions and sporadic fighting, with Abu Dhabi and Riyadh stepping in to calm tensions.
When the latest round of fighting began August 10, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were quick to form a committee to ease tensions and oversee a truce.
“Internal dialogue, and not fighting, is the only way to resolve internal Yemeni differences,” Prince Khalid posted on Twitter ahead of his US trip.
“We are working with the UAE for security and stability in Aden, Shabwa and Abyan and… to unify ranks and voices to combat terrorist threats, whether from the Iran-backed Houthis or from al-Qaeda and Daesh (the Islamic State),” Prince Khalid said, adding that “there are vast differences between those who quarrel over the interests of their nation and providing the people with a dignified life and those who fight the Yemenis in favour of the velayat-e faqih and the Iranian terrorist regime’s agenda in the region.”
Pompeo reiterated US support for a negotiated resolution between the internationally recognised government of Yemen and the STC, lauding Saudi efforts to mediate the dispute, while stressing that dialogue was the only way to achieve a stable and unified Yemen.
“Very important for the unity, stability and prosperity of Yemen that the Yemeni government and STC resolve their dispute,” he said on Twitter.
“Had a productive meeting with @kbsalsaud today to discuss #Yemen, maritime security, countering the Iranian regime’s dangerous activities and human rights,” he added.
The Trump administration could be preparing to initiate direct talks with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to end the 4-year-old war, a report in the Wall Street Journal stated.
That would be the first direct contact by the US government with the Iran-allied militia since December in Sweden during UN-sponsored peace talks, which resulted in what became known as the Stockholm Agreement.
The Wall Street Journal speculated that “secret talks” between the United States and the Houthis could be in Oman. It said US officials were hoping Saudi Arabia would participate.