STATE DEPARTMENT —
U.S. officials on Monday expressed disappointment with a move by Iran-supported rebels in Yemen to form a new "national salvation government" in that impoverished country.
"We are concerned by reports that the Houthi faction and the General Party Congress element aligned with former President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh have claimed to announce a new cabinet unilaterally, without an official foundation and without the support of the legitimate government of Yemen or the Yemeni peace process," State Department spokesman John Kirby told VOA. "This development contravenes the commitments provided by the Houthis and the GPC element to support the U.N.-facilitated peace process."
Formation of the 35-minister government, based in Sana’a, was necessary because of Yemen's "internal situation and confronting the [Saudi] aggression," according to the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency.
The Houthis' move, however, is "not conducive to achieving a lasting and comprehensive settlement to the conflict in Yemen, which will require political negotiation and consensus among all parties," Kirby added.
The move comes less than two weeks after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he extracted a pledge from Houthi leaders, during a secret meeting in Muscat, for them to form a unity government with their foes.
The U.N.-led plan also called for the Houthis to pull out of the main cities and hand over their heavy weapons. But exiled Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, whose government is based in Aden, rejected the deal that would have him handing power to a less divisive deputy, although Western diplomats said Saudi pressure is being applied to get him on board.
The Houthi move shows "a disregard not just for the Yemeni people but also for the international community," said Rajeh Badi, a spokesman for the exiled government of Yemen's president. "Over a year and a half since the Houthi militia's coup, no one in the international community has recognized the entities they have formed."
‘Blow to U.N.'
Hadi, pushed into exile in Saudi Arabia, remains the internationally recognized president of Yemen and enjoys the critical support of the Saudis, who lead a coalition that has conducted thousands of airstrikes against the Houthis.
But the Houthis, throughout 20 months of warfare, have taken control of enough of Yemen to account for more than half of the population of the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country.
While the formation of the new government "is a blow to the U.N. process, it does not necessarily mean an end to negotiations over the future of Yemen. The Houthis understand that control of the capital and other key areas provides the group with an important bargaining chip," said Alexander Corbeil, lead analyst for the Ottawa-based SecDev think tank.
"The declaration is, in part, a response to Hadi's rejection of the agreement and meant to put more pressure on international, regional and local actors to bring about a solution to the crisis and thus, eventually, enhanced Houthi involvement in the country's political and security affairs," Corbeil told VOA News on Monday.
The decision by the Houthis and Saleh is "a natural step" in the wake of the failure of the Hadi government, despite its Saudi and U.N. support, according Sheila Carapico, professor of political science and international studies at the University of Richmond.
Deadly strikes continue
A 48-hour cease-fire in Yemen expired one week ago.
A coalition strike on Saturday near the Shi'ite-held western port city of Hodeida killed 13 civilians, including women and children, according to security and medical officials there.
More than 10,000 people have died since March 2015, according to U.N. agencies.
The Gulf states accuse Iran of backing the Shi'ite Houthis, and there are accusations that the Iranians have increased transfers of missiles and other weapons to the rebels in recent months.
"There has yet to be any evidence presented to the public of Iranian weapons going to the Houthis," Carapico told VOA. "But Iran undeniably is cheering for them."
One thing is certain: The conflict has created a humanitarian disaster, displacing several million people and pushing Yemen to the brink of famine. U.N. agencies also are warning of the risk of a cholera outbreak.
A naval blockade, set up under U.N. Resolution 2216, which is intended to block arms getting to the rebels, also has choked the supply of critically needed relief for sick and wounded civilians, according to Carapico.