Commander of the US Central Command, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said on Monday that Washington does not believe that the Iran-backed Houthi militias were prepared to discuss the conflict in Yemen as much as Saudi Arabia is seeking a responsible political end to it.
Speaking at a special briefing via telephone, McKenzie added that the US was continuing in helping Saudi Arabia defend itself.
Replying to a question from Asharq Al-Awsat, he said: “We are continuing to work with the Saudis on improvement of their integrated air and missile defense. That’s a very high priority for us, as it is with Saudi Arabia, because they are subjected to really an unceasing bombardment from the Houthis in Yemen through ballistic missiles, small drones and land-attack cruise missiles.
“And these attacks are not helpful; they’re certainly not helpful to try to find an end to the conflict in Yemen. And so we work very hard with the Saudis to enable them to defend themselves, so that work is going on and I’m pleased with the results that we’ve made.”
Asked about the arms shipment that was seized by the US north of the Arab Sea a month ago, McKenzie said that investigations were still ongoing and a specialized team was working on the probe. The results will be announced in partnership with regional partners.
The ship had a “large number of weapons on it in very suspicious circumstances. We are still finalizing attribution for this because we want to be very careful before we go public with who we believe is associated with it,” he continued.
“But at some point, we will certainly come out with that and we will do that in concert with our regional partners. The time is just not ready to do that, and we’ll come out with it as soon as we can,” he stressed.
On Yemen, he said the Houthis were not ready yet to end the war and commit to peaceful initiatives that call for a ceasefire.
“I do not believe the Houthis are ready to seize the moment, and they have an opportunity here to enter good-faith negotiations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to bring an end to this conflict.”
“I believe the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is ready to negotiate. The Houthis need also to be ready to negotiate. (…) I believe we’re at a point where if the Houthis will just see that they have an opportunity to perhaps get into a political negotiation here, then they have an opportunity,” McKenzie added.
The US and British envoys to Yemen had called on the Houthis to end their offensive against Marib after 21 people were killed in shelling on the province.
British Ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron had tweeted: “The Houthis must stop their Marib offensive and engage seriously with the UN. Agreement on a nationwide ceasefire would prevent such tragic losses and allow humanitarian action.”