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US calls for ceasefire in Yemen and political settlement negotiations

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary James Mattis are urging a ceasefire.

The Trump administration is calling for an urgent halt to the Saudi-Iran proxy war in Yemen and the start of negotiations in November towards a political settlement.

The renewed push for a political solution in Yemen comes amid growing criticism of US military support for Saudi Arabia’s Yemen air campaign in the aftermath of the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo urged a ceasefire, specifically citing missile and drone strikes into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The Houthis are supported by Iran. He added the air strikes by the Arab coalition, backed by the US, “must cease in all populated areas in Yemen”.

“The time is now for a cessation of hostilities,” Mr Pompeo said in a written statement shortly after US defence secretary James Mattis made similar statements in an appearance at the United States Institute of Peace.

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US defense secretary James Mattis (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Mr Mattis was more specific than Mr Pompeo in his call for urgent movement towards a political solution to the fighting. He said a ceasefire should take effect within 30 days.

“We’re calling on all the parties, specifically the Houthis and the Arab coalition, to meet in Sweden in November and to come to a solution,” Mr Mattis said.

Sweden’s foreign minister said that the UN’s special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has asked Sweden to host such talks.

Mr Mattis called for demilitarisation of Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia “so that the Saudis and the Emirates do not have to worry about missiles coming into their homes and cities and airports”.

He also said measures should be taken to “ensure that all Iranian-supplied missiles to the Houthis” are put under “international watch”.

Mr Mattis put primary blame on Iran. He said its proxies and surrogate forces are fuelling the conflict.

“They need to knock it off,” he said.

The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis, who toppled the internationally recognised government. The Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

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