Top diplomat: US “encouraging” Saudi Arabia to communicate with Iran

According to Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy to Yemen, while the US and UN work to maintain the tenuous cease-fire in the war-torn nation, the US is “encouraging” Saudi Arabia to maintain contact with Iran.

In an effort to mend their strained ties over crises like Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is the major supporter of the internationally recognised government and Iran has aided the Houthi rebels with weaponry and training, Riyadh and Tehran began direct discussions in Iraq last year.

On the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York City, Lenderking told MEE, “We talk to the Saudis about such issues on a daily basis.”

“We encourage Saudi Arabia to maintain those channels open,” he continued. “[The] Saudis are quite anxious to see benefit from Iran for Yemen and for their security from those dialogues.

In 2014, Yemen entered a civil war when the Houthis, who are allied with Iran, took control of Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government to evacuate to Saudi Arabia.

In order to drive the Houthis back, Riyadh and a coalition of regional allies, led by the UAE, intervened in March 2015. The combat turned into a proxy war with the Saudi-led coalition unleashing hundreds of airstrikes in Yemen, many of which targeted civilian facilities, and the Houthis firing missiles and drones as far as Dubai.

The civil conflict has temporarily stopped fighting since a cease-fire was initially declared in April, but it will end on October 2. The deadline falls during a tumultuous period for the region as efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have mostly failed.

Iran tensions

There has been an increase in hostilities between the US and Iran. The US stated in August that weapons and logistics facilities in northeastern Syria were being exploited by organisations connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Assaults in Syria by militias supported by Iran, according to Washington, prompted the action.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Lenderking said that the nuclear agreement and Yemeni negotiations were taking on on “different tracks.” He also pointed out a discrepancy between Iran’s words and deeds in Yemen.

He told reporters, “We would want to see their [Iran’s] pleasant words met with actual execution. “That is to shift away from arming and training the Houthis,” the speaker said.

Washington has depended on regional partners to speak with Tehran as it attempts to extend the cease-fire, similar to Vienna, when the US had to negotiate the nuclear deal through European nations.

Lenderking stated that since “we do not have any direct discussion with Iranians on any topic, we do not have any direct touch with them on Yemen.” But a lot of nations do, and we communicate with them all and deliver their signals as well.

While some nations in the area, including Israel, have applauded the almost-failed nuclear negotiations, other nations seem to be hedging their bets and have taken steps to reengage with Tehran. The ambassadors to the Islamic Republic were reappointed by the UAE and Kuwait this summer.

The Yemeni militias that have been instrumental in halting Houthi advances in the vital regions of Marib and Shabwa are supported by the UAE. A series of long-range drone assaults that were claimed by the Houthis earlier this year were directed towards the Emirates.

The US supported negotiations on Yemen between the Emiratis and the Iranians, Lenderking told MEE.

The idea of greater positive participation on Yemen from the Iranian side may be considered in the channels between the UAE and Iran, the official added.

Diplomats are getting ready to make the final push to prolong the cease-fire in Yemen. The head of Yemen’s presidential leadership council met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken this week in New York.

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