Rabat - US defense secretary James Mattis announced plans to begin a ceasefire in Yemen within 30 days.
By Josh Babb
Mattis, speaking in Washington, D.C., says that Saudi Arabia and their Emirati allies are ready to come to the table for negotiations to end Yemen’s civil war.
The UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths is to broker talks between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition in Sweden by the end of the year.
Speaking several hours after the announcement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement outlining further details for a ceasefire: “The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Subsequently, Coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen.”
Talks between the Saudi coalition and Houthi rebels had previously been scheduled to take place in Geneva last September, but fell through after the Saudis failed to promise safe passage for wounded Houthi soldiers. The two sides have not held talks in more than two years.
The Yemen civil war began in March of 2015 and has directly killed more than 10,000, among them some 5,200 civilians.
It has been widely reported that the Saudi-led blockade of Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen has regularly brought millions of the civilian population to the brink of a “catastrophic” famine. UN sources state that nearly half the country’s population, or 14 million people, are at risk.
Save the Children estimated that in 2017 alone, some 50,000 children died of starvation or disease in Yemen.
The US has faced continued international criticism for its role in supporting the Saudi coalition, both through coordinating with the Saudi air force and providing Riyadh with weapons.
The calls for a ceasefire also come as US ties with Saudi Arabia have come under question, both abroad and within the US, following the premeditated murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit-squad on October 2 in Istanbul. Khashoggi was a US resident and a contributor for the Washington Post at the time of his death.
According to Jeremy Konyndyk, the former head of US disaster relief assistance, UN envoy Martin Griffiths was in Washington, D.C., last week briefing administration officials of the current crisis facing Yemen’s civilian population, perhaps pressuring officials to announce their most recent plans.
He added, “No administration wants a famine on its watch—and particularly one that would be so closely tied to the White House’s Saudi policy.”
On October 10, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Mike Pompeo calling on him to further detail US involvement in Yemen’s civil war. They specifically asked if the US has taken steps to ensure that the Saudi coalition has taken “demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure.”
Pompeo is expected to release a statement answering the questions later today, October 31.