Mattis Pushes for Negotiated Cease-Fire in Yemen's Civil War

In this Sept. 18, 2018, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks to reporters as he waits for the arrival of Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
In this Sept. 18, 2018, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks to reporters as he waits for the arrival of Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called on the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to work through the United Nations on a cease-fire within 30 days to end Yemen's civil war.

The Yemenis have "had more problems than any people deserve to carry," Mattis said, in the conflict that the U.N. has described as creating the current world's worst humanitarian crisis, putting Yemen on the brink of famine.

"This has got to end. We've got to replace combat with compromise," he said Thursday in a question-and-answer session on the U.S. National Defense Strategy with Stephen Hadley, the former national security adviser in the Obama administration, at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a government-funded think tank.

Mattis urged the warring parties to come to planned negotiations in Sweden in November under the auspices of U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths.

An estimated 16,000 have been killed in the war, in which the U.S. military has been providing intelligence and aerial refueling for the warplanes of Saudi Arabia, which is backing the remnants of the ousted Yemeni government.

The U.S. has charged that the rebels have been supplied by Iran with missiles, which have been aimed at Riyadh and other Saudi targets. The Houthis have balked at previous planned negotiations.

The Iranians "are the ones who keep fueling this conflict, and they need to knock it off," Mattis said. "So we've got to move toward a peace effort here, and we can't say we're going to do it sometime in the future. We need to be doing this in the next 30 days."

Mattis also said that the alleged murder last month by a Saudi hit team of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who had been living in Virginia, should not be allowed to interfere with negotiations on a cease-fire in Yemen.

"I would separate it out from the Yemen situation," he said. Mattis also said he agreed with U.S. President Donald Trump that the Saudis would "get to the bottom of it" in their investigation.

During his talk, Mattis was not asked about, nor did he comment upon, Trump's decision to order 5,200 active-duty troops to the southern border to stop thousands of migrants and political asylum seekers from entering the United States.

He was not asked, either, about the speculation in Washington that he has lost favor with Trump and would step down as defense secretary after the midterm elections. Both Mattis and Trump have denied the resignation rumors.

The rumors were fueled earlier this month when the president gave an interview on the CBS program "60 Minutes" in which he described Mattis as "sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth."

"But General Mattis is a good guy," Trump continued. "We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That's Washington."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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