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US prepares direct talks with Houthi rebels

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — The United States is preparing for direct talks with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to try to end a war that has killed thousands in Yemen, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The US initiative comes after the Houthis intensified their missile strikes and drones against Saudi Arabia, amid mounting tension in the Gulf region.

“The United States is seeking to urge Saudi Arabia to participate in secret talks in Amman with Houthi leaders aimed at negotiating a ceasefire in Yemen,” the Wall Street Journal said, citing officials familiar with the dossier.

The newspaper said the initiative could open the first channel of communication between the administration of US President Donald Trump and the Houthis, at a time of growing fears of a regional war.

The US negotiating team will be led by Christopher Hensel, an experienced diplomat appointed as the first ambassador to the Trump administration in Yemen in April.

Under the administration of former President Barack Obama, US officials made brief contacts with the Houthis in June 2015, three months after the military operation of the Riyadh-led coalition in Yemen began, to persuade them to participate in UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

But the Geneva conference, like other rounds of negotiations, did not succeed in ending the Yemen conflict.

“There is also growing concern in Washington that Saudi Arabia does not seriously want to end the conflict,” the Wall Street Journal said.

US officials plan to meet Saudi officials in Washington this week to encourage a diplomatic option to resolve the Yemen conflict.

The Saudi deputy defense minister and brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are scheduled to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday.

“The US ambassador to Yemen is talking to all Yemenis to promote US goals in this country,” a State Department official told the paper.

The war erupted in 2014 with an attack by the Houthi rebels from their stronghold in northern Yemen, and they were able, in particular, to take control of the capital Sanaa.

An international coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in 2015 to support the Yemeni government against the rebels.

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