US reaches out to Houthis to end war as Saudi struggles
The United States says it has reached out to the Houthi Ansarullah movement to work out a way to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, where the Houthis have managed to push back against a deadly military aggression by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies for over four years.
David Schenker, the Assistant US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, confirmed to reporters on Thursday that Washington had contacted the Houthis for the first time since the beginning of the Saudi-led war in March 2015.
"We are narrowly focused on trying to end the war in Yemen," Schenker said during a visit to the Prince Sultan Air Base near the Saudi city of al-Kharj, near Riyadh, the kingdom's capital.
"We are also having talks to the extent possible with the Houthis to try and find a mutually acceptable negotiated solution to the conflict," he added.
The negotiations provides a direct channel between the Houthis and the administration of US President Donald Trump, who has remained a steadfast supporter of the Riyadh regime throughout its aggression against the impoverished southern neighbor.
Washington's attempt to end the conflict comes as the Houthis, who Saudi commanders confidently said would be defeated in a matter of weeks, have not only defended their country but orchestrated a series of missile and drone attacks against various targets deep inside Saudi territories.
Schenker stopped short of providing more details on the nature of the talks to end the war, which has has claimed more than 91,000 lives, according to data by the US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).
'Victory for Houthis'
Senior Houthi official Hamid Assem told AFP that while he could not confirm or deny Shencker's remarks, the fact that Washington was asking the Houthis for help was a major victory for the Ansarullah movement.
"That the United States says they are talking to us is a great victory for us and proves that we are right," he said.
The announcement by Shecker comes weeks after the Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was preparing for direct talks with the Houthis through a team that would be led by Christopher Henzel, who became the Trump administration's first ambassador to Yemen in April.
A State Department official said Thursday that "the US ambassador to Yemen and other US diplomats talk to all Yemenis to further US objectives in the country".
The last time US officials engaged with the Houthis, former President Barack Obama was still in office. During the talks in June 2015, Washington tried to convince Houthis to attend UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva. Those talks and the following rounds of peace negotiations have failed to end the war.
'Saudis in on US-Houthi talks'
Fatima Abo Alasrar, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said that talks with the Houthis were not taking place "in a vacuum" and were decided "most likely after consultations with the Saudis," who have been looking for a way out of the war.
She noted that the Houthis have exposed the limits of Saudi Arabia's military might by constantly targeting Saudi bases and strategic facilities.
"The Houthis have been sending a barrage of drones and ballistic missiles towards vital Saudi installations after a recent spike in US-Iran tensions," Alasrar said.
"So the US appears to be intervening politically at this stage to assess all possible threats that can come from the region, and perhaps even issue its own threats if the Houthis will not comply," she added.
Shencker said in al-Kharj that it was a "priority" for the US to intercept drones and missiles that both Washington and Riyadh claim are reaching the Houthis despite aerial and maritime blockade on the country.
Beside struggling to defeat the Houthis, Saudi Arabia also faces pressure within the ranks of its own campaign, where an alliance of mercenaries and various Yemeni separatist factions that was supposed to hit the Houthis is now on the verge of collapse due to intense infighting to take control over the key port city of Aden.
The conflict has seen forces of Yemen's pro-Saudi former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi leave Aden, its interim capital.
In addition to the simmering tensions, the Saudi-led atrocities in Yemen have enraged the international community, prompting widespread calls on teh US, the UKL, France and other nations to stop providing the kingdom with weapons and intelligence.
Death toll from Saudi attack on Yemeni prison increases
In one of their latest crimes, Saudi-led aircraft targeted a prison in Dhamar, southwestern Yemen on Sunday.
Initial assessments put the number of the dead at least 100, however Yemen's Health Ministry put the death toll at 156 on Thursday.