US pushes for 'quick return' to Yemen peace talks

US pushes for 'quick return' to Yemen peace talks
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said the US wants UN-backed peace talks in Yemen to return 'as soon as possible,' during the start of his Middle East tour on Tuesday.
2 min read
18 April, 2017
The two-year war has heavily damaged Yemen's infrastructure [AFP]

Washington wants UN-backed Yemen peace talks to return "as quickly as possible", US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said as he began a Middle East tour in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

The United States provides limited military support to the Saudi-led coalition that has been waging war on Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than two years.

"Our aim is that this crisis can be handed to a team of negotiators under the aegis of the United Nations that can try to find a political solution as quickly as possible," Mattis said, when asked whether the US would increase support for the Arab coalition.

It is necessary to end the "firing of missiles provided by Iran against Saudi Arabia" as well as "the death of innocent people in Yemen", Mattis said.

So far, seven ceasefires, alongside peace efforts by the United Nations, have failed to stop the fighting in Yemen and rights groups have repeatedly criticised the coalition for a ‘reckless’ bombing campaign that has caused thousands of civilian casualties.

Yemen's Houthi rebels, allied with troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have fired ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.

Rebels have also shot short-range rockets over the kingdom's southern border, killing least 130 soldiers and civilians.

Washington alleges that Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival, has shipped missiles to Yemen but Tehran strongly denies the charge.

A United Nations Panel of Experts in January reported that it "has not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any direct large-scale supply of arms" from Iran.

Washington provides intelligence as well as aerial refuelling to coalition warplanes conducting airstrikes in Yemen with US-supplied weapons.

However, some officials from within Trump's administration would like to increase US military support for the Saudi-led coalition to better counter Iranian ambitions in the region.

Saudi Arabia regularly accuses the Islamic republic of interference in the Middle East, and Mattis has called Iran the world's "biggest state sponsor of terrorism".

The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed over the past two years and more than 40,000 wounded in impoverished Yemen, which faces a serious risk of famine.

Riyadh has expressed optimism that Trump's team will be more engaged in the region, particularly in containing Iran, compared with former president Barack Obama.

In December, the Obama administration blocked a sale of precision guided weapons to Saudi Arabia because of concerns over civilian casualties in Yemen.