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Kerry in Saudi Arabia to Discuss Yemen Crisis

  • Pamela Dockins

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday in Saudi Arabia that he would talk with Riyadh's leaders about a proposed humanitarian pause in the fighting by the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

"We have urged all sides, anybody involved, to comply with humanitarian law and to take every precaution to keep civilians out of the line of fire, out of harm's way, as well as to provide the opportunity for humanitarian assistance to be able to be delivered," he said.

Kerry will meet with Saudi leaders and Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who has fled to Saudi Arabia for his own safety.

The Saudis have said they are considering a pause in airstikes and other action against the Houthis. Humanitarian aid workers have complained about how hard it has become to deliver food and other aid to Yemeni civilians.

Kerry said that for a pause to be effective, it would have to be respected.

“I think this would be welcomed news for the world if it were able to be effected in a way that does not see people try to take advantage of it and either secure more territory or attack people participating in a legitimate pause," he said.

A senior State Department official said that in addition to discussing Yemen’s crisis, Kerry and Saudi leaders would also talk about Syria’s unrest, Islamic State militants and the Iran nuclear negotiations.

Earlier in the day, Kerry met in Djibouti with President Ismail Omar Guelleh and other officials. Kerry said Somalia and Yemen’s unrest were among the issues they discussed.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh shake hands at the Presidential Palace in Dijbouti, Dijbouti, May 6, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh shake hands at the Presidential Palace in Dijbouti, Dijbouti, May 6, 2015.

Djibouti has played a key role in hosting Americans and other foreigners fleeing from violence in Yemen.

Kerry said there were signs that parties involved in Yemen’s conflict were ready to consider a humanitarian pause. “In my conversation yesterday with another foreign minister from another country, there was an indication that others, the Houthi, might be willing to engage in a pause,” he said.

Kerry made his remarks during a joint appearance with Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf.

US aid to Yemen

During the appearance, Kerry also announced the U.S. would provide another $68 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen. The money will be used to provide food, water, shelter, medical care and other aid.

“Millions of vulnerable people urgently need help,” the secretary said.

The State Department said the money would help humanitarian organizations, which have been hampered by fuel shortages in the country, meet the needs of nearly 16 million people in Yemen affected by the country’s crisis, including about 300,000 who have been internally displaced.

Ahead of Kerry’s arrival in Djibouti, a senior State Department official said more than 500 American citizens evacuated from Yemen had come through Djibouti, along with an equal number of family members. The official said the number of foreigners leaving Yemen has been “steady.”

Youssouf noted that Djibouti had been dealing with the refugee influx by itself.

"So far, we have evacuated 12,000 refugees from Yemen," he said, and "most of them were not Yemenis. They were Americans, Chinese, Indians and many other nationalities.”

Kerry thanked Guelleh and Youssouf for their assistance to Americans who sought refuge from the violence in Yemen.

An army for Somalia

In an interview with VOA's Somali service, Guelleh said the discussions with Kerry "went very well" and focused on bilateral cooperation as well as regional issues that included terrorism and piracy. He commended U.S. support to governments in the region.

Guelleh also asked Kerry to put increased effort into establishing a national army from all regions of Somalia with good training that would be ready when African Union troops leave Somalia. Otherwise, he said, "our efforts and your efforts will be incomplete.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with young people at Salman Mosque in Djibouti, Djibouti, May 6, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with young people at Salman Mosque in Djibouti, Djibouti, May 6, 2015.

In addition to meeting with Djibouti officials, Kerry visited a mosque, where he talked to young people, including some who participated in the U.S.-organized Young African Leadership Initiative fellowship program.

He also met with U.S. service members at Camp Lemonnier. The U.S. base with about 4,500 personnel serves as a hub for U.S. military efforts in the Horn of Africa.

Kerry traveled to Djibouti from Kenya, where he met with the country’s political leaders and civil society members. He made a side trip to Somalia on Tuesday, becoming the first sitting U.S. secretary of state to visit the country.

After Kerry wraps up his visit to Saudi Arabia, he will travel to Paris to meet with Gulf Cooperation Council members to discuss security and regional cooperation.

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