According to the Yemeni government-in-exile, United States diplomats are in discussions with Yemen’s Houthis, a Shiite rebel group which seized control of the Gulf country earlier this year.
“We have been informed that there are meetings, at American request, and that a private American plane carried the Houthis to Muscat,” Yemeni spokesman Rajeh Badi told Reuters. He also said that the Yemeni government-in-exile is not a party to these talks.
Senior Houthi officials have denied these reports, however. They admit to being in talks with Iran, Russia, and China, but they claim the U.S. is not participating.
On Sunday, U.S. officials told the press that several American citizens are being detained by the Houthis in Yemen.
Many believe that these prisoners are being held in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, which has been under attack by Saudi airstrikes.
The United States is a major ally of Saudi Arabia, which has been fighting the Houthi rebels in an attempt to restore the Yemeni government-in-exile. In March, President Obama signaled his support for the Saudi airstrikes.
Yemen is an important strategic nation in the War on Terror, as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, arguably the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda, is based in Yemen. In addition, Yemen sits on the Bab al-Mandab Strait, through which many global oil shipments pass.
Roughly 2,000 people have died since this war started on March 19.
The Houthis first began fighting the Yemeni government in 2004, when their founder Sheikh Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi rallied a group of tribesmen from Northern Yemen to fight the growing power of the country’s Sunni Islamist majority.
Al-Houthi was killed by government forces in an attempt to arrest him, which galvanized even more unrest in the north.
The Houthis contributed to the Arab Spring protests which rocked Yemen in 2011. They were primarily angry with a proposed new federal constitution which restructured the Yemeni government.
The Houthi rebels seized control of the Yemeni capital in January, forcing President Hadi and his internationally-recognized legitimate government of Yemen to retreat.
Experts believe Yemen is so unstable due to a dangerous mix of weak governance, corruption, resource depletion, unemployment, high food prices, and tribalism. Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and one of the most violent.