US calls for ceasefire in Yemen within 30 days, sparking hopes of diplomatic breakthrough
Posted On July 16, 2020
The US has called for a ceasefire in Yemen within 30 days followed by UN-brokered peace talks, sparking guarded hopes for a breakthrough in the international effort to end the country’s disastrous three-year war.
Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, and Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, both said on they wanted to see a swift end to the fighting between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led military coalition supported by the US and UK.
“Thirty days from now we want to see everybody around a peace table based on a ceasefire,” Mr Mattis said in Washington.
Mr Pompeo called on Saudi Arabia and its allies to stop their airstrikes on populated areas in Yemen but appeared to say that the Houthis must make the first move by ending attacks against the Gulf states.
“The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and [drone] 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,” he said.
While there have been many efforts to bring an end to the fighting in Yemen, the latest announcement is the first time that the US has called on its Arab allies to halt their strikes within a clear timetable.
The Yemen war, which broke out in 2015, has seen more than 10,000 people killed and around 14 million on the brink of starvation. Around 130 children are estimated to be dying each day as a result of disease and malnutrition.
Theresa May, the prime minister, said she backed the US call for a ceasefire but said any truce must be “underpinned by a political deal between the conflict parties”.
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, hailed the US announcement as “the most significant breakthrough in the war in Yemen for four years”.
“It is a very welcome recognition that current policy is failing and needs urgently to be changed to focus on a diplomatic solution,” he said.
He called on the UK, which has responsibility for taking the lead on Yemen resolutions at the UN, to immediately begin working on a UN Security Council resolution to formalise the calls for a ceasefire.
The US said it wanted the ceasefire to be followed swiftly by peace talks in Sweden brokered by Martin Griffiths, the UN’s special envoy on Yemen.
Mr Griffiths tried to arrange a round of peace negotiations in Geneva in September but the talks collapsed when the Houthi negotiators did not show up.
Saudi-led coalition forces have massed troops near the port city of Hodeidah in recent days in an apparent effort to pressure the Houthis into agreeing to talks.
Aid groups fear that if no deal is reached, the coalition will launch a full scale assault on Hodeidah, potentially leading to mass civilian casualties.
There was no immediate response from either Saudi Arabia or the Houthi rebels to the US calls for a ceasefire.
Both sides have been accused of war crimes during the conflict, although the vast majority of civilian deaths have been caused by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, according to the UN.
The US may have decided to move on the Yemen situation now because it sensed an opportunity to pressure Saudi Arabia while the kingdom is still reeling from international criticism over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist.
US officials had said previously they wanted to see Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, give ground on both Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s feud with Qatar.
With the crown prince fighting off allegations that he ordered Mr Khashoggi’s death, the US may have seen an opening to pressure him on other regional issues.