Kerry to discuss pause in Yemen war with Saudis

Published 9:29 am Wednesday, May 6, 2015

DJIBOUTI — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday he’ll discuss with Saudi Arabian officials how to implement a “humanitarian pause” in Yemen’s civil war, citing increased shortages of food, fuel and medicine that are adding to a crisis that has already caused thousands of people to flee to neighboring countries.

At a news conference in Djibouti, an African nation that has taken in several thousand refugees from Yemen, Kerry that it was important that conditions to the pause are adhered to so that no party uses the time period to seize territory or otherwise exploit the situation.

He said he was deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

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“The situation is getting more dire by the day,” he said.

Kerry blamed Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis for the continued violence, but he said he believed a break in the fighting could be arranged in the coming days. He seemed to suggest that he discussed the situation this week with Iran’s foreign minister.

Kerry arrives later Wednesday in Riyadh. He credited the Saudis for efforts to increase access for aid agencies trying to reach civilians in Yemen. He also announced $68 million in new U.S. aid to help meet a growing need for food, water and shelter there. He said the U.S. was giving $2 million to help Djibouti deal with an influx of Yemeni refugees.

A sleepy coastal nation in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti was the last French colony to achieve independence. Today, nearly four decades later, the mainly Sunni nation has become a critical part of U.S. foreign policy.

With U.S. ground forces out of Yemen amid a civil war, Djibouti is a launching pad for drone attacks on al-Qaida and other extremist groups as well as a key transit point for Americans trying to get home.

Kerry traveled to Djibouti in part to thank the government for its support and to get a closer look at U.S. operations. A day after becoming the first top American diplomat to visit Somalia, he’s likewise be the first to make an appearance in tiny Djibouti, which encompasses an area the size of New Jersey and has less than 1 million people.

Kerry met with President Ismail Omar Guelleh and Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf before seeing top U.S. military officials at Camp Lemmonier, which hosts thousands of U.S. troops, contractors and civilian workers as well as aerial drones that fly over Yemen and Somalia.