U.S. Seeks Direct Negotiations With Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, Report Says

The U.S. administration plans to push Saudi Arabia to participate in the secret talks with the rebels in Oman in a bid to resolve Yemen's four-year-old conflict

Houthi rebels fighters in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, August 1, 2019
Hani Mohammed,AP

The United States is planning to hold direct negotiations with Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Oman in a bid to resolve the country's four-year-old conflict, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing U.S. officials involved in the talks.

The Yemen conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. But the Houthis have denied taking any orders from Tehran and say they took up arms against corruption.

The Trump administration seeks to push Saudi Arabia to participate in the secret talks with the Houthi rebels. The initiative is meant to mediate a ceasefire deal in Yemen, according to the sources who spoke with The Wall Street Journal.

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This could be the first significant move by the United States toward resolving Yemen's conflict.  

In December of 2018, the Houthis and U.S.-led coalition forces began peace talks in Sweden, but no direct negotiations were held since U.S. President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, former and incumbent U.S. official said.

In 2015, senior officials in the Obama administration were the first to hold secret meetings with Houthi rebels in Oman in an attempt to reach a truce several months after the war had broken out in Yemen.

Furthermore, the Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore a Yemeni government ousted from power in Sanaa by the Houthis.  

A soldier stands at a military post taken by government forces during recent clashes with southern separatists west of Ataq of the Shabwa province, Yemen, August 26, 2019.
ALI OWIDHA / Reuters

The Houthis, who control the Yemeni capital Sanaa and most of its populous areas, have stepped up attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia in recent months. In response, a Saudi-led coalition fighting against the Houthis has targeted military sites belonging to the group, especially around Sanaa.

The attacks are complicating UN-led peace efforts.

The United States considers the Houthi rebels as Iran's proxies, saying Tehran should be held accountable for rocket and drone attacks that Yemeni rebels are routinely carrying out against Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's civil war has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the impoverished country to the verge of famine, the United Nations and aid agencies have said.

In the past week, violence has flared in the southern port city of Aden between government forces based there and southern separatists who had been fighting alongside them against the Houthis.