Blinken, Saudi counterpart discuss Yemen in first phone call

Blinken, Saudi counterpart discuss Yemen in first phone call
© CARLOS BARRIA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBlinken urges Tunisian president to return country to 'democratic path as quickly as possible' Blinken calls US-India relationship 'vital' during official visit US sanctioning Syrian officials, groups over human rights abuses MORE and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud discussed the war in Yemen in a phone call Saturday after the U.S. made a series of moves to try to ease the humanitarian crisis there.

“Secretary Blinken and the Foreign Minister discussed regional security, counterterrorism, and cooperation to deter and defend against attacks on the Kingdom. The Secretary outlined several key priorities of the new administration including elevating human rights issues and ending the war in Yemen,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. 

The conversation was the first to occur between the two diplomats. Blinken’s first call to a counterpart in the Gulf occurred on Thursday with the United Arab Emirates’s minister of foreign affairs. 

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The conversation with the Saudi minister comes as the U.S. revamps its policy toward Yemen and the allied coalition led by Riyadh.

Fighting between Houthi rebels, who have ties to Iran, and Saudi Arabia and its allies have sparked one of the most severe humanitarian crises in modern history. The United Nations estimates that roughly 80 percent of Yemenis are in need amid widespread starvation and medicine shortages.

The call comes two days after President BidenJoe BidenFirst lady leaves Walter Reed after foot procedure Biden backs effort to include immigration in budget package MyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News MORE announced he is reversing a policy of backing offensive efforts by the Saudi-led coalition, which have been panned for killing civilians.

“This war has to end,” Biden said during an address at the State Department. “And to underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales." 

The Biden administration is also revoking an eleventh-hour decision by the Trump administration to label the Houthis a terrorist group, a designation critics had warned could hinder efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to areas under the rebels’ control.