US President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan arrives in Saudi Arabia Monday to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the United States presses for a ceasefire in the years-long war between the kingdom and Yemen’s Houthi rebels; According to a report by the French Press Agency, translated by Al-Mashhad Al-Yamani.
Sullivan will be the most senior Biden administration official to visit Saudi Arabia. Besides seeing the crown prince, often referred to by his initials, Mohammed bin Salman, Sullivan is expected to meet with Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman, the crown prince’s brother, according to two senior administration officials.
The officials were not authorized to comment publicly, and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A senior official in the US administration said that the White House had decided that ending the conflict, perhaps the most complex in the world, could not be done without dealing with senior Saudi officials face to face.
National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Sullivan was traveling to Riyadh on Monday and would also visit the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s ally in the war, but she did not give additional details.
Axios first reported that Sullivan was planning to travel to the area.
Sullivan is sent at a time when the situation in Yemen, which is the poorest country in the Arab world, is witnessing a frightening deterioration. Fighting intensified in the main city of Marib, as Iranian-backed rebels sought to oust the Saudi-backed government from the oil-rich city in the north of the country.
International efforts to end the war were fruitless. Last July, the US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, called on the Houthis to “continuously engage meaningfully in the ceasefire and participate in political talks.” Saudi Arabia offered a cease-fire proposal to Houthi rebels in Yemen earlier this year as it looked to rehabilitate its image with the Biden administration.
The Saudis have come under international criticism for the air strikes that have killed civilians and the embargo that has exacerbated hunger in a country on the brink of famine.
The new UN envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, recently declared that the country is “stuck in an unspecified state of war” and that resuming negotiations to end the more than six-year conflict will not be easy.
The war in Yemen began in September 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis seized Sanaa and continued their march south in an attempt to take over the entire country. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, entered the war on the side of the internationally recognized Yemeni government in March 2015.
Under President Donald Trump, targeting continued even though his administration later halted US refueling operations for Saudi planes.
Biden announced weeks into his administration that he was ending all US support for “offensive operations during the war in Yemen, including related arms sales.” But there has been little progress on the ground in resolving what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
White House officials hope that Grundberg’s appointment will bring new dynamism and put pressure on all sides to end the conflict, according to two senior administration officials.
Joining Sullivan for talks with the Saudis and officials from the United Arab Emirates, Lenderking and Senior Director at the National Security Council for the Middle East Brett McGurk.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had planned to travel to Saudi Arabia earlier this month while in the region, but was delayed due to what the administration said were scheduling issues.
The high-profile White House campaign comes after Lenderking traveled to Saudi Arabia and Oman, which are both pressing for an end to the war. In addition, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held talks with his counterparts members of the Gulf Cooperation Council on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Sullivan’s visit to Saudi Arabia also comes as the administration looks for ways to revive the Iran nuclear deal. The Saudis and the United Arab Emirates vehemently oppose a return to the deal with Iran that the Obama administration originally brokered in 2015 only to be scrapped by Trump in 2018.
Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, said in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last Friday that his country would return to nuclear negotiations in Vienna “very soon.” But he accused the Biden administration of sending contradictory messages by saying it wanted to rejoin the agreement while imposing new sanctions on Tehran and not taking “any positive action.”
Biden and his team have made returning the United States to the agreement — which Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and Iran — one of their top foreign policy priorities. But the United States has made limited progress in the indirect talks, and Tehran has been alarmed by Biden administration officials’ call for a “longer and stronger” deal than the original agreement, which expires at the end of 2030.