Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is touring US had a meeting with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who stressed the need for a permanent political solution in Yemen.
Saudi has led the bombing of Yemen since 2015 in a bid to drive the Houthi rebels out of the country and reinstall the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
“We must also reinvigorate urgent efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Yemen and we support you in this regard,” Mattis said.
Yemen, which according to UN officials is experiencing the ‘largest man-made humanitarian crisis’ has been hit by a massive cholera outbreak, scarcity of basic necessities and more than 10,000 deaths.
Asked by reporters at the start of his talks whether he would raise the issue of civilian casualties in Yemen, Mattis said: “We are going to end this war, that is the bottom line. And we are going to end it on positive terms for the people of Yemen, but also security for the nations in the peninsula.”
Earlier in the year, UN chief Antonio Guterres appointed former British diplomat Martin Griffiths as his new envoy charged with trying to broker peace in Yemen.
Will Picard, executive director of Yemen Peace Project, a Washington-based advocacy group, called Mattis statement “empty rhetoric”.
“We heard from the beginning of the war US officials saying they want to put an end to the war, yet they keep perpetuating it,” Picard told.
‘We must also reinvigorate urgent efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Yemen and we support you in this regard,’ Mattis added.
However, Mattis also praised Saudi for its ‘significant amounts of humanitarian aid’ for civilians in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition said earlier this year it would commit $1.5bn in humanitarian aid for the country.
Critics say Saudi aid in the shadow of the coalition’s blockade on Yemen exclusively puts the response to the humanitarian crisis in the hands of an active party in the conflict and does not reach Houthi-controlled territory.
The war has forced more than 2 million people out of the country. The country which is the poorest in the Arabian Peninsula has further been damaged by famine.
On Tuesday, the US Senate killed a resolution seeking an end to Washington’s support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen.
During the Senate debate before the vote, some backers called the three-year-long conflict in Yemen a “humanitarian catastrophe”, which they blamed on the Saudis.
Mattis had lobbied Congress to reject the bill, warning that restrictions could increase civilian casualties, jeopardise counterterrorism cooperation, and “reduce our influence with the Saudis”.
The US offers refuelling and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition. Picard said the legislation would have been an important step towards peace.
“Ending American military involvement in this conflict is crucial to ending the war in whole,” he said.
“The United States cannot play a useful role in bringing peace to Yemen while it continues to be a belligerent in this conflict and to support the coalition’s war efforts.”
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White informed that during the meeting, the Saudi prince discussed about increasing cooperation with the US military, including training.
The young leader was given a warm welcome by the US President Trump and even credited US defence sales to Saudis with boosting American jobs.
Picard noted that Thursday’s comments were not made by the secretary of state “because the US doesn’t have one”.
Trump sacked Rex Tillerson last week, and his new appointee, Mike Pompeo, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.
“That vacuum at the top of America’s diplomatic apparatus tells you all that you need to know about Trump administration’s commitment to the peace process in Yemen,” Picard said.
Mattis and Saudi prince also spoke about Afghanistan, during which the young leader said that his country was willing to help members of the Taliban and their families who were interested in reconciliation efforts.
White said the Saudi crown prince was “quite positive” that Gulf countries involved in a long-running dispute would be able to move past it.
The US is also keen to end the rift between the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar. The differences between the two parties has divided the GCC.
Meanwhile, the US formally approved defence contracts totaling more than $1bn with Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
The department confirmed it had green-lighted a $670m deal for anti-tank missiles, a $106m contract for helicopter maintenance and $300m for ground vehicle parts.
An official said the deals had been in the pipeline since Trump has announced more than $100bn in possible new contracts on a visit to Riyadh last year.
“This proposed sale will contribute to US foreign policy and national security objectives by helping to improve the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.