Mattis praises Saudi humanitarian aid for Yemenis

ARLINGTON, VA: US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (third right) speaks during a bilateral meeting with Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman (third left) yesterday at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. — AFP

WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia and America must pursue "urgent efforts" to bring a peaceful end to Yemen's war, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman yesterday. The two men met at the Pentagon as part of Prince Mohammed's tour of the United States, which began this week with a White House visit.

"As you discussed with President (Donald) Trump on Tuesday, 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 told Prince Mohammed.

Mattis praised Saudi Arabia for the "significant amounts of humanitarian aid" it had provided to civilians in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition said earlier this year it would commit $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for the country.

The war in Yemen has displaced more than 2 million people and driven the country - already the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula - to the verge of widespread famine. Nearly 1 million people have been infected with cholera. On Tuesday, the US Senate killed a resolution seeking an end to US support for Saudi Arabia's campaign in Yemen.

The Senate voted 55-44 to dismiss the resolution, which sought for the first time to take advantage of a provision in the 1973 War Powers Act that allows any senator to introduce a resolution on whether to withdraw US armed forces from a conflict not authorized by Congress.

The vote was largely along party lines, although a handful of Democrats voted with the majority Republicans to kill the measure, and a handful of Republicans supported the failed effort to let it move ahead. During Senate debate before the vote, some backers called the three-year-long conflict in Yemen a "humanitarian catastrophe," which they blamed on the Saudis.

The United States provides refueling and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition. Before the start of his meeting at the Pentagon, which was delayed by 30 minutes due to his late arrival, Prince Mohammed said the two countries were working together on combating a number of threats.

"Under the leadership of you, Mr. Secretary, the cooperation has improved tremendously between the two ministries of defense and we will continue doing so in the future," the crown prince said. He was speaking through a translator. President Donald Trump gave a warm welcome to the crown prince during a meeting at the White House earlier this week and credited US defense sales to Saudis with boosting American jobs.

Mattis said he believes Saudi Arabia is "part of the solution." "They have stood by the United Nations-recognized government and 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," Mattis added. Saudi Arabia leads a coalition in Yemen fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The devastating three-year-old conflict was an early proving ground for the prince, who is also the minister of defense, but it has been beset by allegations of atrocities against civilians, and strategic drift. Just hours after the prince left the White House on Tuesday, the US Senate rejected a bipartisan bid designed to curtail US support for the war, which includes air-to-air refueling of Saudi jets as well as target and intelligence sharing.

Speaking through a translator, Prince Mohammed told Mattis that cooperation between the Pentagon and the kingdom had "improved tremendously." More than 9,200 people have been killed and tens of thousands wounded in Yemen's war, which is seen as both a civil conflict and a proxy war between regional titans Saudi Arabia and Iran.

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed the situation in war-torn Yemen during a meeting on Tuesday, including Houthi rebel and Iranian activity and the humanitarian crisis, the White House said.

"On Yemen, the President and the Crown Prince discussed the threat the Houthis pose to the region, assisted by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps," it said in a statement on Wednesday. - Agencies