US urges Saudis to show caution in regional disputes
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PARIS, Dec 8 — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Saudi Arabia to take a more cautious approach to regional conflicts today amid growing concern over Riyadh’s involvement in Yemen, Qatar and Lebanon.
“I think with respect to Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Qatar, how they’re handling the Yemen war that they’re engaged in and the Lebanon situation I think we would encourage them to be bit more measured, a bit more thoughtful in those actions to, I think, fully consider the consequences,” Tillerson said.
The Saudi kingdom is a close ally of the United States and hosted President Donald Trump’s first foreign visit, and Washington supports Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s domestic economic reform and anti-corruption efforts.
But Saudi Arabia’s young de facto leader has also embarked on an aggressive series of foreign policy adventures that have threatened regional stability, annoyed other US allies and complicated Washington’s own policy goals.
This week, US anger boiled over, and Trump demanded that Saudi forces stop their blockade of shipping into Yemen — where they are fighting Huthi rebels — “for humanitarian reasons immediately”.
Seven million people are believed to be on the brink of famine in Yemen and a cholera outbreak has caused more than 2,000 deaths — but Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on its ports after a Huthi missile was fired toward Riyadh airport on November 4.
Tillerson, speaking at a news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, added more detail to Trump’s demand.
“We have called for — and President Trump himself called for this week — a complete end to the blockade of Yemen and the reopening of all the ports,” Tillerson said,
The opening should apply, he said, “to not just humanitarian assistance but commercial deliveries as well, because about 80 per cent of the food comes in by commercial shipments. We are asking that Saudi Arabia allow that access.”
Saudi Arabia also appears to have played a murky role in the recent political crisis in Lebanon, which began on November 4 when Lebanese premier Saad Hariri appeared on television in Riyadh to announce his resignation.
Hariri has since returned to office — Tillerson met him today in Paris — but Bin Salman is thought to have pressured him to quit as part of his campaign against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, part of Lebanon’s coalition government.
Riyadh was also the driving force behind the breakdown in relations in June between Qatar and its neighbours. Despite it being a US ally and host of a major air base, Saudi Arabia accuses Qatar of complicity with Iran.
Tillerson supports Kuwaiti attempts to broker an end to the stand-off. — AFP