Mattis: Saudi Arabia 'part of the solution' in Yemen civil war

Mattis: Saudi Arabia 'part of the solution' in Yemen civil war
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Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday said Saudi Arabia was “part of the solution” in Yemen, in the midst of a civil war critics say has killed thousands of civilians due in part to airstrikes led by Riyadh.

Mattis's comment came after he was asked by a reporter if he would raise concerns about the civilian casualties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom the Defense secretary was planning to meet later in the day at the Pentagon.

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The former U.S. Central Command head replied that the United States has “been working very hard with the new [United Nations] U.N. envoy” to Yemen to end the fighting.

“We believe that 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,” Mattis said.

“And we are going to end it on positive terms for the people of Yemen but also security for the nations in the peninsula.”

The United States has provided support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen’s three-year civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition to intervene on behalf of Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The United States — which sees Saudi Arabia as an ally in the fight against al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — has given the Saudis weapons and helped with limited intelligence and logistics, such as air refueling of jets.

Mattis also commented at the start of the meeting on Washington's partnership with Saudi Arabia in deterring Iran's malign activities. He added that a political settlement to end the war in Yemen would protect Saudi Arabia and “deny terrorists the safe haven they seek.”

“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 said in prepared remarks.

“Your significant amounts of humanitarian aid is critical to help the innocent caught up in this conflict (and) we applaud you for that."

The meeting follows a Senate vote Tuesday to attempt to force President Trump to end the U.S. military's support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. 

Senators voted 55-44 to table the resolution, effectively killing it.

Mattis had urged Republicans to oppose the measure during a closed-door lunch hours ahead of the vote. He also sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warning that the resolution could “increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis.”

In addition, administration officials last week briefed all senators to champion the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

The Trump administration has also been negotiating a so-called Section 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia that would allow the kingdom to buy nuclear reactors from U.S. companies. Salman discussed the potential deal with Trump prior to his meeting with Mattis.