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US Talking with Iranian-Backed Houthi Rebels to End War in Yemen, Report Says

Supporters of southern separatists with their faces painted with the colors of the South Yemen during a rally to show support to the UAE amid a standoff with the government, in Aden, Yemen, Sept. 5, 2019.

VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.

A top U.S. diplomat says the United States is holding talks with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to try end the fighting in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians.

"We are narrowly focused on trying to end the war in Yemen," assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs Davis Schenker said during a visit to Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

The French News Agency quotes him as saying, "We are also having talks to the extent possible with the Houthis to try and find a mutually accepted negotiated solution to the conflict."

A U.S. State Department official did not confirm the U.S. is talking to the rebels, telling VOA on Thursday it is engaged in talks with "all Yemenis to further U.S. objectives in the country ... working with our international partners to bring peace, prosperity and security to a unified Yemen."

The former Obama administration briefly held talks with Houthi leaders to try to convince them to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Those talks and subsequent U.N.-sponsored peace talks failed.

The Houthis seized the Yemeni capital in 2014, followed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes against the rebels. The missiles have obliterated entire civilian neighborhoods, killing thousands and aggravating what was already a humanitarian crisis in one of the world's poorest nations.

U.S. President Donald Trump vetoed congressional measures to cut off all U.S. aid to the Saudi coalition in May.

A Yemeni man walks amid the rubble of a Houthi-held detention center destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in Dhamar, Yemen, Sept. 1, 2019.
A Yemeni man walks amid the rubble of a Houthi-held detention center destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in Dhamar, Yemen, Sept. 1, 2019.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has sent a warning to a different group — separatists who hope to restore the former South Yemen republic.

"Any attempt to destabilize Yemen's security is a threat to the Kingdom and the region and will be dealt with decisively," a statement on the official Saudi news agency said Thursday.

The Saudis are demanding the separatists turn over all military bases and Yemeni government buildings in the port of Aden to Yemen.

The United Arab Emirates back the southern separatists. The UAE has been a key member of the anti-Houthi coalition. Its support for the separatists threatens to further complicate the dangerous situation throughout Yemen.