Houthis ‘passed up major opportunity’ by refusing UN meeting: US

‘Dire conditions’ in Yemen worsen as Houthis press Marib offensive, Saudis urged to ease blockade, US says.

Houthi soldiers marched in Sanaa during a funeral procession in February for Houthi fighters killed fighting government forces in Yemen's Marib province [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

Houthi representatives “passed up a major opportunity” by refusing to meet in Oman with United Nations special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, the US State Department said on Friday, urging all parties to negotiate an end to the brutal six-year conflict.

“There is a fair deal on the table that will bring immediate relief to Yemeni people,” the State Department said in a statement released upon the return to the United States of Special Envoy Tim Lenderking from a round of meetings in Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

“Contrary to their pronouncements regarding the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Houthis worsen it by continuing to attack Marib and exacerbating dire conditions for already vulnerable, internally displaced Yemenis,” the State Department statement said.

US President Joe Biden appointed Lenderking to revive diplomatic efforts to bring the war in Yemen to an end. Biden has announced an end to US military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, blamed for targeting civilians, and launched a diplomatic effort to find a political solution in Yemen.

The Iranian-backed Houthis have been attacking government forces in the oil-rich province of Marib in a drive to gain leverage in any political settlement. Lenderking told the US Congress last month that Iran is providing material support and weapons to the Houthis.

In Saudi Arabia, Lenderking held meetings with senior government officials, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on April 30, whom he urged to ease the Saudi blockade of the maritime port at Hodeidah and the airport in Sanaa.

After meetings in Oman and Jordan, Lenderking returned to Riyadh for meetings with senior officials and urged the Saudis to reach a ceasefire agreement and to support political talks with the Houthis, the US statement said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [Saudi Press Agency/Handout via Reuters]

Saudi Arabia and Iran have recently held direct talks in Iraq aimed at opening diplomatic channels between the two adversaries and reducing wider tensions in the region.

Saudi Ambassador Rayed Krimly, head of planning for the Saudi foreign ministry, said on Friday the talks hosted by Baghdad were exploratory.

“We hope they prove successful, but it is too early, and premature, to reach any definitive conclusions. Our evaluation will be based on verifiable deeds, and not proclamations,” Krimly told the Reuters news service.

Meanwhile, the US said Lenderking had met with Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr al-Busaidi together with US Senator Chris Murphy and the two held a separate meeting with UN special envoy Griffiths and ambassadors to Yemen of the European Union, Germany and Britain to discuss bringing the war to an end.

In a tweet on May 6, Senator Murphy linked the maintenance of US economic sanctions against Iran to its continuing support for the Houthis’ militia in Yemen.

Lenderking also met in Amman, Jordan, with King Abdullah II as part of a larger US delegation to discuss regional security issues including US efforts to re-engage Iran in the 2015 nuclear deal and Yemen.

“The Houthis passed up a major opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to peace and to make progress on this proposal by refusing to meet with UN Special Envoy Griffiths in Muscat – especially given the Republic of Yemen Government’s stated readiness to reach an agreement to end the conflict,” the US statement said.

“With the growing international consensus and momentum toward ending the conflict in Yemen without further delay, all parties must engage with the UN Special Envoy and address the proposal that is on the table, for the sake of the Yemeni people.”

Source: Al Jazeera