RIYADH: The US envoy to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday condemned Iran-backed Houthi drone and missile attacks on the Kingdom which had “set back opportunities for peace” in Yemen.
John Abizaid said the launching of armed drones and ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, including one fired toward Riyadh, was counterproductive to efforts aimed at bringing an end to fighting in Yemen.
The American ambassador praised the Saudi air defense forces for thwarting Tuesday’s attacks which drew worldwide condemnation.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion with journalists to mark the 75th anniversary of the historic meeting between King Abdul Aziz and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on board the USS Quincy, Abizaid said: “It’s a shame that Houthis continue to launch missiles at a time when the Saudi government, in particular, is working so hard to find a peaceful solution to the many problems in Yemen.
“It does not move us toward a better solution at all. It creates tension that is unnecessary. Unfortunately, one of these missiles or drones will end up striking very innocent people.”
Acknowledging the Saudi role toward restoring peace and stability in Yemen, the envoy said: “Saudi Arabia has shown a lot of forbearance in trying to find a path forward. Unfortunately, the Houthis decided to launch Iranian-designed missiles and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) across the border. It’s unfortunate, it sets opportunities for peace back.”
However, he expressed hope that UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, would press ahead with his peace process, although he admitted it was “a difficult path for him and all the various parties” involved.
Abizaid described ties between Saudi Arabia and the US as “one of the most strategic relationships that exist anywhere in the world.”
He added: “As we work our way through the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation, we very much look forward to strengthening the relationship and continuing to form opportunity with our Saudi friends and partners.”
The diplomat pointed out that America was working alongside the Kingdom on numerous regional issues. “With regard to various problems we see emerging in Libya and other places, we always try to work closely. We always are in consultation with our Saudi friends.
“Saudi influences are so pervasive in the Middle East and among the other Arab countries. We certainly are working hard to keep the pressure on the Iranians. We do not want to punish the Iranian people. We hope that the Iranian government over time will learn that there is a path toward peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, right now we have not seen that.”
On the situation in the US regarding ongoing protests over the killing of George Floyd and issues concerning police brutality, the ambassador said: “Certainly, we all condemn what happened to George Floyd.
It was terrible to see it on television. We have some issues that
we, as a society need to come to grips with.
“I always marvel at how we are willing to play out some of our deepest difficulties on the world stage in front of everybody. But that is how we do things. I am confident we will come to a better path. I am confident that many responsible people are working to adjust our societal issues concerning racial, injustice, income, inequality, many other things,” he added.
Abizaid gave an example of how Saudi Arabia was handling Hajj. “I can think of watching your country try to come to grips with how they’ll proceed for Hajj, which is hugely important for the whole Muslim world. We’ve watched it being done in a very open and straightforward way with a lot of consultation.
“I think there’s a lesson in that, which is to try to do things prudently and smartly at a time when there’s global disruption,” he told Arab News.
Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Saudi students had to be repatriated in the middle of their studies. Abizaid said: “I know we’re all working very hard to re-establish them (educational opportunities). Our public affairs officer works very hard to find opportunities for Saudis to study in the US.
“And we’re also working hard to open up opportunities, which I think is even more important for Americans to study and work in Saudi Arabia.
“I’m very hopeful that as we start moving into 2021, we’ll see economic activity pick up to a large extent and educational opportunity pick up to a large extent. I’m hopeful that the long-term educational relationship that we’ve developed over the years will remain strong and viable,” he added.