Middle East/North Africa

Trump administration preparing for talks with Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen: report

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The Trump administration is preparing to initiate negotiations with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to bring the four-year civil war in Yemen to an end, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The effort is reportedly aimed at convincing Saudi Arabia to take part in secret talks with the rebels in Oman to help broker a cease-fire in the conflict, which has emerged as a front line in the regional proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.

{mosads}Obama administration officials met with Houthi rebels in 2015 to try to broker a ceasefire and the release of Americans held in Yemen, and another meeting between U.S. officials and Houthi leaders was held last December in Sweden during United Nations peace talks, but there have yet to be any significant talks between the group and the Trump administration, current and former U.S. officials told the Journal. 

The White House National Security Council directed The Hill to the State Department for comment, which did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

The conflict in Yemen began as a civil war against the government in Sana’a, but has rapidly evolved into a wider conflict with Saudi Arabia and Iran viewing it as a contest for influence in a country on Riyadh’s doorstep. The war has escalated to produce one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with widespread famine and medicine shortages ravaging the civilian population.

The dire situation has led to bipartisan efforts in Congress to push the administration to curtail its support of the Saudi-led military coalition in the country, which many on Capitol Hill blame for the humanitarian concerns. The White House has pushed back on those efforts, vetoing a bipartisan bill in April that sought to completely end U.S. military support for the war. 

The talks with Houthi leaders would reportedly be led by Christopher Henzel, who was confirmed as the Trump administration’s first ambassador to Yemen in April.

However, Houthi forces last week reportedly appointed an official ambassador to Iran in a sign that opponents of the peace talks were gaining steam and the Saudi-backed leader of Yemen, who is currently in exile, is viewed around the globe as an obstructionist, people familiar with the diplomatic efforts told the Journal.

Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi vice defense minister and brother of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, is slated to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday to reportedly discuss diplomatic efforts in ending the war in Yemen.

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