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State Department: Now Is Time for Peace Talks in Yemen


FILE - U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during an interview with Reuters in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Oct. 4, 2018.

The United States is urging the warring sides in Yemen to return to peace talks supported by the United Nations, in hopes of ending a conflict that has lasted more than three years.

"We have come to the assessment that the climate is right at this time to move forward," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said Wednesday, after U.N.-backed peace talks collapsed in September.

At a briefing, Palladino said Yemen's Houthis must stop missile and drone strikes into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the Saudi-led coalition must halt airstrikes in populated areas in Yemen.

In March 2015, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia began airstrikes against the Houthis in support of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and has followed with other military support, including deploying thousands of troops. The United States has provided refueling and targeting support to the coalition.

U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths had tried to get the two sides together for peace talks in September in Geneva, but the Houthi delegation did not make the trip, with officials expressing concerns about safety guarantees not being met.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during the 2018 POW/MIA National Recognition Day Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, Sept. 21, 2018.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during the 2018 POW/MIA National Recognition Day Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, Sept. 21, 2018.

"[W]e want to see everybody around a peace table, based on a cease-fire, based on a pullback from the border, and then based on a ceasing of dropping of bombs that will permit the special envoy ... to get them together in Sweden and end this war," U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said. "We need to be doing this in the next 30 days. We have mired in this problem long enough."

Mattis spoke at an event Tuesday night in Washington, saying a cease-fire would allow the parties involved to step back from war and meet with Griffiths.

"That is the only way we're going to really solve this," Mattis said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington, Oct. 23, 2018.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington, Oct. 23, 2018.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed support for Griffiths and a cease-fire leading to peace talks.

"Substantive consultations under the U.N. special envoy must commence this November in a third country to implement confidence-building measures to address the underlying issues of the conflict, the demilitarization of borders, and the concentration of all large weapons under international observation."

The conflict is a mix of regional and international influences that began with Iran-backed Houthi rebels seizing control of parts of Yemen, including the country's capital, from the internationally recognized government.

Rights groups have criticized the air campaign for what they say is indiscriminate bombing that has killed and injured many civilians. Houthi rebels have also been blamed for rights abuses and sending missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Pompeo called for both those Houthi attacks and coalition airstrikes on populated areas to stop.

"It is time to end this conflict, replace conflict with compromise, and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction," he said.

The U.N. envoy said in early October that such safety guarantees were important for getting the two sides to talk, and that while anyone would want a cease-fire for any conflict, he did not believe that should be a precondition for peace talks.

An estimated 10,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Yemen began. The country was already the poorest in the region, and the fighting has pushed it to the brink of famine, with the United Nations saying 22 million people are in need of aid.

The International Rescue Committee welcomed the U.S. call for a cease-fire, calling it the "most significant breakthrough" in the war.

"It is a very welcome recognition that current policy is failing and needs urgently to be changed to focus on a diplomatic solution," IRC President and CEO David Miliband said in a statement.

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