U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pushed for a suspension of hostilities in Yemen as he arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, citing an escalating humanitarian crisis.
“We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation that is unfolding in Yemen – shortages of food, shortages of fuel, shortages of medicine,” Kerry told reporters in Djibouti before leaving for Saudi Arabia. “The situation is getting more dire by the day.”
Kerry indicated that the Iranian foreign minister, speaking on behalf of the Houthis, signaled a possible willingness to participate in a cease-fire.
He said he believed an agreement to stop the fighting could be reached in the coming days, citing telephone conversations he had this week with the Saudi foreign minister and that of “another country” who indicated “the Houthi might be willing to engage in a pause.”
“It was clear” that Kerry was referring to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif when he mentioned “another country,” reports The Associated Press (AP).
Even a temporary hiatus from the fighting “would be welcome news to the world,” Kerry said.
However, he emphasized that any cease-fire arrangement must ensure that no warring faction takes advantage of the moratorium to mount attacks or seize more territory, which could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.
During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Kerry is expected to press the Saudis to suspend their air campaign to better enable deliveries of humanitarian aid.
Kerry’s cease-fire message to the Saudis comes after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels reportedly fired rockets and mortars into the Saudi southern province of Narjan, killing two civilians and capturing five soldiers on Tuesday.
Responding to the Houthi attack across the border, Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said in a statement that the Saudi-led Sunni coalition would counter the assault.
“What happened today is part of the chaos that the Houthi militias live with,” he said, adding that “all options are open” to Saudi Arabia.
Last week, three Saudi troops and dozens of Houthi rebels were killed during clashes in Narjan, along the border.
The White House reinforced Kerry’s push for a suspension of hostilities.
“We certainly are pleased that the Saudis have indicated a willingness to scale back their military efforts,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “But we haven’t seen a corresponding response from the Houthi rebels indicating a willingness to cease their military operations and bring about the dialogue that’s necessary to try to resolve the differences between all the parties in this conflict.”
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country was contemplating a halt to its air campaign to ease the flow of humanitarian aid, notes The Wall Street Journal.
Last month, Saudi Arabia said it would shift its military campaign to a political and humanitarian phase in the effort, adding that it would still respond with force to Houthi attacks.
Kerry traveled to the Saudi capital Riyadh on Wednesday to secure a pause in Yemen’s war.
“We will be discussing the nature of the pause and how it might be implemented, but I am convinced of their desire to implement a pause,” said Kerry in Djibouti.
The discussions are taking place as the Houthis and their allies, military units loyal to Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, consolidated their hold over parts of the southern port city of Aden after heavy fighting with armed groups who support the internationally-recognized Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
A Saudi-led Sunni coalition has been launching airstrikes against the Houthis and their allies since March 26, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
The Saudis are backing the Hadi loyalists combating the Houthis on the ground.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83.