Kerry in Saudi Arabia for meetings on Yemen war impasse

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for meetings with the kingdom's senior royals and other Gulf officials for talks focusing on Yemen's stalled peace process.

Kerry is expected to raise U.S. concerns about civilian casualties in Yemen "and our strong desire to ensure that those sorts of casualties are avoided, and that the conduct of the air campaign is done with all proper and appropriate regard for being discriminate and precise," said a senior State Department official traveling with Kerry.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the meetings and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The United States has backed a Saudi-led coalition of nine Arab countries in a nearly 18-month bombing campaign against Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies in Yemen. The Houthis, who are allied with Saudi Arabia's regional rival, Iran, seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. The U.S. has provided logistical and intelligence support to the coalition.

The conflict has killed more than 9,000 people, including more than 3,700 civilians and displaced 2.4 million. The fighting has destroyed much of the already limited infrastructure in one of the Arab world's poorest countries.

U.N.-backed peace talks held in Kuwait were suspended earlier this month, leading to an uptick in airstrikes and fighting.

Doctors Without Borders announced last week it was withdrawing from northern Yemen due to what the international aid group called "indiscriminate bombings and unreliable reassurances" from the Saudi-led coalition after an attack on a hospital it supported in the area killed 19 people and wounded 24.

Rights groups, meanwhile, are calling on the U.S., Britain, France and others to suspend weapon sales to Saudi Arabia until it curtails its airstrikes in Yemen.

One of Kerry's first meetings in the Red Sea city of Jiddah on Wednesday evening was with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia's defense minister.

On Thursday, Kerry is scheduled to meet the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, before taking part in joint talks with Saudi and Emirati officials, as well as a senior British diplomat.

The State Department said the multilateral meeting is for participants to share ideas about "getting the political discussions back on track" in order to end the violence. Kerry will also put forth some ideas, the official said, without elaborating.

Kerry will also hold talks with the foreign ministers of neighboring Arab Gulf countries and discuss the conflicts in Libya and Syria, as well as counterterrorism efforts.


Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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