The United States is working to capitalize on what it regards as new leverage with Saudi Arabia to end the brutal civil war in Yemen and ease a regional standoff with Qatar, according to multiple US and diplomatic officials.
Seeing an opening created by the kingdom’s new pariah status after the killing of a dissident journalist, US officials say the time is ripe to move on longstanding goals, including forcing an end to the Saudi-led bombing campaign that has prompted a humanitarian crisis in neighboring Yemen.
The officials acknowledged that neither the Yemen war nor the dispute with Qatar can be solved quickly. But the administration hopes to make progress on both fronts by the end of the year, they said, and have recently stepped up public calls on Saudi Arabia to alleviate the disputes.
Calls for Yemen ceasefire
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both this week called on participants in the Yemen civil war to agree to a ceasefire “in the next 30 days,” a demand that comes amid fresh criticism of US support for the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict.
“Thirty days from now we want to see everybody around a peace table based on a ceasefire, based on a pullback from the border and then based on ceasing dropping of bombs,” Mattis said at an event at the US Institute of Peace in Washington on Tuesday.
His call was later echoed by Pompeo, who issued a statement saying, “the United States calls on all parties to support UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Yemen.”
Mattis and Pompeo both insisted that the US-backed Saudi-led coalition and the Iranian-aligned Houthis stop their respective aerial and missile bombardments.
The three-year conflict between Saudi-led coalition and their Iranian-backed enemies has devastated Yemen and killed at least 10,000 people. United Nations experts say that the coalition’s bombing of civilians are potential war crimes and that its partial blockade of the country has put 13 million men, women and children in danger of starvation, in what could become the worst famine in 100 years.
Griffiths said the most pressing factor justifying the US call for a cease-fire was the threat of starvation: “The threat of famine is a very real threat and risks doubling the numbers of people in Yemen who are at risk of dying of hunger or famine. That’s the urgent factor here.”
Griffiths said he believed the US administration is taking this issue seriously, adding: “Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo are on this day and night” but acknowledged “the challenge now is to turn this call into action.”
Outrage over the situation has created increasing pressure on the US to pull its support for the coalition, which it provides in the form of military sales, training and refueling of coalition jets.
Saudi Arabia’s belated admission that Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and US resident, was murdered by a team with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has left the Trump administration – including the President himself – feeling stung by Saudi Arabia.
After initial strong denials, the kingdom has produced multiple explanations. Even after admitting that Khashoggi was murdered by men close to bin Salamn, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said blaming Saudis for the US resident’s death is “hysterical.”
Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Manama Dialogue in Bahrain Saturday, al-Jubeir said, “This issue has become fairly hysterical. People have assigned blame on Saudi Arabia with such certainty before the investigation is complete. We have made it very clear that we are going to have a full and very transparent investigation, the results of which will be released.”