U.S. Endorses Yemen Peace Talks as Saudis Call End to Airstrikes

The Obama administration says it’s hopeful Saudi Arabia’s decision to halt its bombing campaign against the Houthi rebel group will lead to the resumption of diplomatic negotiations to end the fighting in Yemen.

“We’re trying to redirect this to a political discussion here,” White House communications director Jen Psaki said Wednesday in an interview with CNN.

“Obviously the job is not done,” Psaki said. “There is remaining instability in the region, in Yemen. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

In announcing the end of their four-week bombing campaign Tuesday, the Saudis said they hope to restore the Yemeni government and broker a broader peace agreement. Fighting continued Wednesday as the Saudi-led coalition struck Yemen’s Houthis amid clashes between the group and forces loyal to the exiled president.

The Saudis started the bombing campaign with U.S. logistical support last month after the Iran-backed Houthis seized key government buildings in the capital, Sana, and forced President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee. The Saudis have faced international pressure to halt the campaign, however, amid rising civilian casualties. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has discussed the airstrikes with Saudi officials repeatedly in recent days.

The administration welcomed the Saudi decision to end airstrikes, and applauded the announcement that the Saudi government would provide $274 million in humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people.

‘Political Dialogue’

“We strongly urge all Yemeni parties, in particular the Houthis and their supporters, to take this opportunity to return to these negotiations as part of the political dialogue,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Having bravely and resolutely sought a democratic political transition, the Yemeni people deserve the opportunity to hold a peaceful debate about their new constitution, to participate in a credible and safe constitutional referendum, and to vote in free and fair national elections,” Meehan said.

The U.S. will continue to support efforts to prevent the violation of a United Nations resolution prohibiting the supply of arms to the Houthis, according to the statement. The U.S. has deployed warships to the region which are thought to be monitoring Iranian vessels that could be used to transfer weapons in violation of the embargo.

Obama Messages

In an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said his administration had sent “very direct messages” to the Iranian government about the provision of weapons.

“What we’ve said to them is if there are weapons delivered to factions within Yemen that could threaten navigation, that’s a problem,” Obama said.

The administration also said it would continue to monitor terrorist threats posed by terror groups, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“AQAP and other terrorists have sought to benefit from the deterioration of the political and security situation in Yemen, and we strongly believe it is in the interests of the Yemeni people to unite to confront the shared terrorist threat to their country,” Meehan said.

Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, said Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC that the instability had lead to a “Wild West” for extremist groups.

“You have what you have in Syria, you have what you had in Afghanistan pre-9/11, which is an opportunity for a bacteria-like al Qaeda to move into Yemen and basically establish themselves,” Kinzinger said.

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