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Hadi Absence Clouds US Effort to Fight Al-Qaida in Yemen

  • Pamela Dockins

Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, hold up their weapons to protest Saudi-led airstrikes during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2015.

Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, hold up their weapons to protest Saudi-led airstrikes during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2015.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s decision to leave Yemen, as Houthi rebels advanced on his complex in Aden, has raised concerns about the U.S. effort to fight al-Qaida militants in the country.

Although the Houthi rebels who have gained control of large swaths of Yemen also oppose al-Qaida, it is unlikely they would work with the U.S. to fight the terrorist group. The Houthis consider themselves “authentic Yemen” and beholden to no foreigners, said Charles Schmitz, an analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

“They can not been seen as cooperating with the Americans,” he said.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. has ways to make its views known to the Houthis, but "we have not had direct contacts with the Houthis.”

Publicly, the U.S. has continued to support the Hadi government in Yemen.

Rathke said Yemen’s conflict came up “briefly” Thursday in talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at nuclear negotiations in Switzerland.

He said Kerry also spoke to Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers. The alliance of six Arab countries is leading an effort to bomb targets of the Iran-backed Houthis.

Despite U.S. support for the military campaign, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the best outcome for Yemen would be a negotiated political solution.

“However, that path can not be pursued as long as you have the Houthis working with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to foment a lot of instability in the country,” he said.

Earnest said the U.S. was urging Houthis to stop the violence and cooperate with a U.N.-led effort to negotiate a settlement.

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