Peace talks aimed at ending the war in Yemen have been set for early December in Sweden, between Huthi rebels and the UN-recognised government, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday.
He said the Saudis and United Arab Emirates — who have militarily backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in the brutal three-year-old war — “are fully on board, by the way.”
Take a look: Yemen rebel calls for halt to military operations
“It looks like that very, very early in December, up in Sweden, we'll see both the Huthi rebel side and the UN-recognised government, President Hadi's government, will be up there.”
Mattis last month made a surprise call for a ceasefire in Yemen and urged warring parties to enter negotiations within the next 30 days. The United Nations has now pushed that deadline back to the end of the year.
Mattis' latest comments came as the US State Department said talks must not be delayed any longer, and UN envoy Martin Griffiths was in Sanaa for talks with rebel leaders to push them to join the peace talks in Sweden.
Griffiths is spearheading the biggest push in two years to end the war, which has sparked what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
It also comes a day after US President Donald Trump vowed to stick with Saudi Arabia as an ally despite the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul October 2.
The CIA has reportedly concluded that the murder was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, but Trump chose to overlook that in favor of the larger relationship with the kingdom.
“On the Khashoggi affair, presidents don't often get the freedom to work with unblemished partners in all things,” Mattis said.
“If you want to end the war you're going to deal with Saudi. You can't say I'm not going to deal with them,” he said.
Washington has been providing bombs and other weapons, as well as intelligence support, to the Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi, but recently ended its refueling support for Saudi warplanes.
The Huthis failed to show up to peace talks in Switzerland in September, leading to the collapse of that effort to end the fighting. The Huthis have said repeatedly that they need stronger security guarantees from the international community that they will be given safe passage through the crippling air and sea blockade the coalition has enforced since March 2015.
UN agencies say up to 14 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation if fighting closes the port of Hodeida, a gateway for humanitarian aid.
“All parties must not delay talks any longer, or insist on travel or transport conditions that call into question good faith intentions to look for a solution or to make necessary concessions,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
“The time for direct talks and building mutual confidence is now.” Nauert said the US welcomes the coalition's Tuesday announcement of $500 million to address Yemen's food security crisis. “In addition to this, Hodeida port must be turned over to a neutral party to accelerate the distribution of aid to address the acute humanitarian crisis, and to prevent the port from being used to smuggle weapons and contraband into the country or to finance the Huthi militia,” Nauert said.
“It is time to end this conflict, replace conflict with compromise, and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction.” Years of United Nations-backed peace efforts have failed to end Yemen's fighting, which has killed nearly 10,000 people — mostly civilians — since the Saudi-led coalition intervened.