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US Urges Yemen's Houthis to Halt Attacks

In this Feb. 4, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden speaks about foreign policy, at the State Department in Washington. Biden's announcement that the U.S.

The United States is calling on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels to avoid any new military offensives in Yemeni territory and to halt attacks affecting civilian areas in Saudi Arabia.

In a statement late Sunday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States is “deeply troubled by continued Houthi attacks.”

“We urge the Houthis to refrain from destabilizing actions and demonstrate their commitment to constructively engage in U.N. Special Envoy Griffiths’ efforts to achieve peace,” Price said. “The time is now to find an end to this conflict.”

U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths began two days of talks in Iran Sunday as he pushes for a negotiated political settlement to the conflict in Yemen, which began in late 2014 with the pro-Iran Houthis seizing the Yemeni capital. Saudi Arabia, a longtime regional rival of Iran, launched a military campaign in defense of Yemen’s internationally recognized government in early 2015.

In a Monday briefing, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Griffiths met earlier in the day with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to exchange views on Yemen.

“Zarif and Griffiths discussed the urgent need to make progress towards a nationwide cease-fire, the opening of [Yemeni capital] Sana’a airport and the easing of restrictions on Hudaydah ports,” Dujarric said. “Griffiths welcomed the expression of Iran’s support towards the U.N.’s efforts to end the conflict in Yemen,” he added.

Martin Griffiths, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Feb. 7, 2021.
Martin Griffiths, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Feb. 7, 2021.

The U.S. call for the Houthis to cease attacks comes days after U.S. President Joe Biden, who took office last month, ordered an end to his predecessor Donald Trump’s support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels. Rights groups have criticized the coalition for carrying out airstrikes that struck civilian areas in Yemen.

Explaining his decision to withdraw from the coalition, President Biden called Yemen’s conflict a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”

Mohammad Javad Akbarin, a France-based journalist and theologian, said the latest U.S. and U.N. moves are aimed at pressuring Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and predominantly Shiite Iran, who back the opposing sides in Yemen’s civil war, to resolve their dispute outside of the country.

“Yemen's salvation from the hands of Iran and Saudi Arabia is possible only with a new comprehensive agreement to resolve regional problems,” Akbarin said in a Monday appearance on VOA Persian TV.

Biden also notified Congress last week that his administration will remove the Houthis from a list of foreign terror organizations, reversing the designation made in the final days of the Trump administration.

Humanitarian organizations had warned that such a designation would harm efforts to get badly needed relief to Yemeni areas under Houthi control, where the bulk of the country’s population lives. The United Nations calls the situation in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Michael Lipin contributed.