LONDON: The top US military official in the Middle East has urged the Iran-backed Houthis to cast aside their pride and desire for a military solution in Yemen, and instead enter political negotiations with the internationally recognized government and Saudi-led coalition to end the country’s crisis.
In a press briefing attended by Arab News, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of the US Central Command, said it is clear that the Houthis are holding up the peace process in Yemen and thereby prolonging the suffering of millions of people.
“We’re at a point in the crisis in Yemen where I’m personally convinced that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seeks a responsible political end to the conflict. I’m convinced they’re willing to take significant steps to make that happen,” he told Arab News. “Unfortunately, I don’t believe the Houthis are ready to seize the moment.”
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia launched a wide-ranging initiative to bring peace to Yemen, deliver aid to its people and end the country’s six-year war.
The plan called for a nationwide ceasefire supervised by the UN, the reopening of Sanaa airport, and new talks to reach a political resolution to the conflict.
However, McKenzie said he believes the Houthis are unwilling to entertain the possibility of a political solution.
They “have an opportunity here to enter good-faith negotiations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to bring an end to this conflict,” he added.
“But their constant bombardment of Saudi Arabia isn’t helpful, and their continued pressure to take the town of Marib in northwest Yemen isn’t helpful either.”
Marib hosts many internally displaced Yemenis, and just days ago dozens of people — including a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old — were killed by a Houthi airstrike on a gas station there.
“I hope (the Houthis’) pride and their desire to seek a purely military solution to this conflict isn’t going to overcome the opportunity that we now have in front of us,” McKenzie said.
One of Washington’s priorities, he added, is “deterring Iran’s destabilizing activities” because Tehran “remains the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East.”
A key focus of that effort is taking place in Iraq, where Tehran is going to increasing lengths to undermine the country’s sovereignty.
Much like the Houthis, McKenzie said Iran’s Iraq-based proxies are increasingly dismissive of political engagement, and are instead choosing to pursue their objectives with violence.
“The latest manifestation of that has been the use of small unmanned aerial systems, or drones. Some of them are very small, some are larger, but all can be very lethal,” he added. “Political pressure hasn’t worked for them. Now they’re turning to a kinetic approach.”