Britain backs calls for Yemen ceasefire and peace talks

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, spoke last night about the issue with Martin Griffiths, a British diplomat who is serving as the UN special envoy for Yemen.

In a statement, Mr Griffiths said he welcomed the calls for the immediate resumption of the efforts to reach a ceasefire and stresses that military action is not the solution to this conflict.

“We remain committed to bring the Yemeni parties to the negotiations table within a month. Dialogue remains the only path to reach an inclusive agreement,” he said.

It comes as Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, and Jim Mattis, the defence secretary, urged an end to the fighting that has pitted Iran-backed Houti rebels against forces loyal to the internationally-recognised president, supported by a Saudi-led coalition.

Nearly 10,000 people have since been killed and the country now stands at the brink of a famine that the UN says could be the worst the world has seen in more than a century.

Yemen is one of the poorest Arab countries and faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Britain and the United States supply weapons and intelligence to Saudi Arabia, a relationship that has drawn increasing condemnation as civilian casualties in Yemen mount – and amid the global outcry following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A diplomatic source said Mr Hunt supported the US calls for a ceasefire within 30 days.

During Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament, Theresa May said “we certainly back the US’s call for de-escalation in Yemen.”

She went on to echo Mr Hunt’s words, saying: “A nationwide ceasefire will only have an effect on the ground if it is underpinned by a political deal between the conflict parties.

“The foreign secretary discussed this with Martin Griffiths, the UN Envoy last night and agreed the UK will continue to encourage all parties to agree to de-escalation and a lasting political deal which ensures any ceasefire holds in the long term.”

Setting out the framework for a peace plane, Mr Pompeo said UN-led negotiations to end the civil war should begin in November in Sweden.

He said missile and drone strikes by Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should stop, and the Saudi-led coalition must cease air strikes in all populated areas of Yemen.

“The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Mr Pompeo said, using an acronym for unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Subsequently, coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen,” he said.

Mr Mattis, addressing a forum in Washington on Tuesday, defended US efforts to help reduce casualties by the Saudi-led coalition and said all sides needed to take meaningful steps toward a ceasefire and negotiations in the next 30 days.

The United States helps the coalition by refuelling its jets and providing training in targeting.

Three-quarters of Yemen’s population, or 22 million people, require aid and 8.4 million people are on the brink of starvation.

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