Jim Mattis, in Saudi Visit, Calls for Political Solution in Yemen because it can’t be won militarily
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called on Wednesday for a political solution in Yemen between Sunni Arabs, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, and Iranian-backed Houthis, but he stopped short of publicly warning America’s Sunni allies against a planned bombing campaign targeting the port city of Al Hudaydah.
Human rights officials have warned that bombing Al Hudaydah could lead to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and Mr. Mattis’s remarks were in line with those of many officials in the region that the Saudi coalition’s war against the Houthis, begun two years ago, cannot be won militarily.
American officials hinted at additional military and intelligence support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen. They said a stepped-up military campaign against the Houthi fighters who have taken over the capital and portions of the country may be necessary to bring the group and its ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, to the negotiating table.
“In Yemen, our goal is to push this conflict into U.N.-brokered negotiations to make sure it is ended as soon as possible,” Mr. Mattis said during a short news conference after a night and a day of meetings with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The defense secretary said Iranian support for the Houthis was destabilizing Yemen, and he talked up the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Relations are enjoying salad days in the Trump administration after years of friction between the administration of Barack Obama and the Saudi leadership, which thought Obama officials were too friendly with Iran.
Mr. Mattis’s two-day visit, the start of a weeklong tour of the region, is setting the stage for President Trump’s first visit as president to the oil-rich nation. While no date has been announced, Saudi officials visiting Washington last month broached the idea of a visit with their Trump counterparts, which got a positive reception from the president and his team. “Now that we have the blessing of our leadership, it’s important that we actually do something with it,” Mr. Mattis said. “So what we can do here today could actually open the door possibly to bringing our president to Saudi Arabia.”
Mr. Trump would certainly be more welcome than Mr. Obama, who forged a nuclear deal with Iran over the objections of Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Gulf allies, and whose administration publicly criticized the high, and growing, civilian death toll in the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen. One of the final acts of the Obama administration was to block a transfer of precision munitions to Saudi Arabia in December because of concerns about civilian casualties that administration officials attributed to poor targeting.
Mr. Trump must decide if he will resume arms sales to the Saudis and whether the Pentagon, which has aided in the war against the Houthis, will share more intelligence and provide additional targeting …read more