U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to broker an unconditional ceasefire in Yemen, amid international outrage over an errant Sunday Saudi strike.
The U.S. is supporting a Sunni coalition against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen’s ongoing civil war. The war has come to the forefront of American policy after a Saudi airstrike mistakenly hit a funeral party Sunday, killing 140 civilians and leaving another 600 wounded. The strike drew international condemnation, and reportedly prompted a policy review by the Obama administration.
“What the Secretary has been pushing hard for is to get back … to a cessation of hostilities, a 72-hour cessation of hostilities which can at least then create some kind of climate where a political dialogue or a dialogue can begin again,” Department of State spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Thursday.
The strike may have even dragged the U.S. into unwanted armed confrontation with the Houthi rebels. The rebels fired missiles at U.S. destroyers in international waters on Sunday and Wednesday, prompting the U.S. to fire three tomahawk missiles at Houthi radar stations Thursday.
“We need to de-escalate obviously given the events of the past week and that is where the priority is right now,” Toner continued.
All previous U.S. attempts at organizing a ceasefire in Yemen have failed. Yemen has turned into a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who see the struggle for Yemen’s future as an existential struggle between the two powers.
The Department of State’s rhetoric is almost exactly reminiscent of failed U.S. efforts to broker a ceasefire in Syria. The U.S. tried implementing a ceasefire with Russia in September that called for a week-long halt to Russia and Syria’s bombing campaign. The ceasefire folded at almost the exact same time it began, and spectacularly collapsed with the worst bombing the city of Aleppo has seen in the five years of Syria’s civil war.
Toner acknowledged, “It’s hard and I agree that it does sound similar,” to U.S. rhetoric surrounding Syria, but doubling down on the strategy saying “the formula is what we believe is the right one.”
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