The U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense called for the cessation of hostilities in Yemen and for talks between opposing forces in a civil war that has raged on for over three years.
“It is time to end this conflict, replace conflict with compromise, and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction,” State Secretary Mike Pompeo said in an Oct. 30 statement.
He called on all parties to support a peace effort of U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, saying “substantive consultations … must commence this November in a third country to implement confidence-building measures to address the underlying issues of the conflict, the demilitarization of borders, and the concentration of all large weapons under international observation.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis addressed the issue during a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Oct. 30.
“We’re calling on all the parties—specifically the Houthis and the Arab Coalition—to meet in Sweden in November and come to a solution,” he said. He urged the parties “not talk about subordinate issues like what town they’re going to meet in, or what size the table is they meet around, but talk about demilitarizing the border so that the Saudis and the Emirates do not have to worry about missiles coming into their homes and cities and airports.”
The Yemen civil war, reaching back to 2015, has caused a humanitarian crisis with more than 8 million people on the brink of starvation—nearly a third of the country’s population, according to the U.N.
The main conflict was started by the Houthi insurgents against the administration of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
The Houthis accused Hadi of selling out to an American-Jewish-Arab conspiracy, while Hadi accused the Houthis of being pawns of Iran. The United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other allies back the Hadi government and blame Iran for fueling the conflict.
Iran denies supporting the Houthis, but in 2016 the U.S. Navy seized a large shipment of Iranian weapons that the Pentagon said was likely headed for Yemen, Fox News reported.
The Saudis have also produced remnants of missiles and drones they say Iran provided to the Houthis.
“Right now, what the Iranians have done by bringing in missiles … is interrupted freedom of navigation,” Mattis said. “They’re the ones that keep fueling this conflict, and they’re the ones that need to knock it off.”
Both sides of the conflict oppose Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a terrorist group that controls a part of Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis have at times paid off AQAP troops to leave without a fight or even recruited AQAP fighters, The Associated Press reported in August.
The United States sells weapons to the Saudi coalition and provides intelligence, airstrike targeting support, training, and mid-air refueling for the coalition forces.
Iran Under Pressure
The call for a ceasefire comes days before the United States re-imposes sanctions against Iran’s oil industry on Nov. 4. President Donald Trump ordered the sanctions in May following the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. The deal was to postpone Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
Part of the reason Trump tossed the deal was because it didn’t address a plethora of other issues the United States has with Iran, including its development of ballistic missiles, detaining Americans, and support of terrorist groups and militias including Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis.
“[Iran] may do it through proxies as they do it so often in the Middle East, but they do not escape accountability for what they’re doing through proxies and surrogate forces. We still will hold them accountable,” Mattis said.
Terms of Ceasefire
Pompeo said the Yemen ceasefire should start with ending “missile and UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”
“Subsequently, Coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen,” he said.
Mattis said he will also push to “ensure that all the missiles that Iran has provided to the Houthis are put under international watch in parts somewhere where they can be accounted [for].”
He said the United States and like-minded countries are looking to “set the conditions for a return to traditional areas inside Yemen and a government that allows for this amount of local autonomy that Houthis or southerners want.”
The U.N. was proposing a similar solution in 2014, but the Houthis didn’t like that their autonomous region didn’t have access to an equal portion of natural resources, like the sea and the oil fields, the AFP reported.
U.N. Special Envoy Griffiths welcomed the call for a ceasefire in an Oct. 31 release.
He urged “all concerned parties to seize this opportunity” to resume talks, in particular on “enhancing the capacities of the Central Bank of Yemen, the exchange of prisoners and the re-opening of Sana’a airport.”
“We remain committed to bring the Yemeni parties to the negotiations table within a month,” he said.