Saudi vice defence minister Prince Khalid bin Salman in US for Yemen talks

He is to hold high-level discussions as US intensifies efforts to break political stalemate

epa07524557 Saudi Arabian Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (C) attends during the MCIS Moscow Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, 24 April 2019.  EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV
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Saudi vice minister of defence Prince Khalid bin Salman is visiting Washington this week for high-level talks on Yemen as the US government intensifies its efforts to break the political stalemate.

US officials said the visit centred on Yemen discussions as the Trump administration considers new approaches to end the four-year-old war between the internationally recognised Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The State Department weekly schedule shows Prince Khalid will meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday afternoon.

The sources said he would also hold talks with US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Gen Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Prince Khalid last week met UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, who is visiting the region, with his most recent stop in Riyadh on Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the Trump administration is preparing to initiate direct talks with the Houthis.

A US State Department official would not comment on the report, but told The National that the US goal in Yemen "remains consistent: to work with our international partners to bring peace, prosperity and security to a unified Yemen".

"We are focused on supporting a comprehensive political agreement that will end the conflict and dire humanitarian situation," the official said.

Sources said Mr Pompeo was involved in the new US diplomatic push to boost Mr Griffiths’ efforts.

This month he called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Prince Khalid’s brother, to discuss Yemen and “reaffirmed their strong support for UN efforts to advance the political process".

Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Yemen and vice president of the Middle East Institute, said Prince Khalid's visit was a “sign of greater US engagement in resolving the Yemen conflict”.

Mr Feierstein told The National that the push could part of a broader regional strategy to ease tension.

“A successful resolution of the Yemen conflict will bring benefit in reducing regional tensions and could help to facilitate a reopening of dialogue between the US and Iran,” he said.

Houthi drone attacks and missile launches aimed at Saudi Arabia have increased in the past three months.

On Monday, the Saudi-led Arab Coalition announced that it had destroyed three drones launched by the Houthis towards the kingdom.

Stephen Seche, executive vice president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said Prince Khalid would be fully briefed on any administration plans to initiate direct talks with the rebels to hasten an end to the war in Yemen.

He said the administration would also provide assurances that nothing would be agreed to that weakened Saudi national security.

Mr Seche a former US ambassador to Yemen, expected the US to “encourage the Saudis to actively support these and other diplomatic efforts to reach a negotiated settlement of the conflict".

He said the Trump administration's “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran would be a major focus of talks.

"The Saudis will seek, and receive, assurances that Washington remains determined to see Tehran end its destabilising behaviour in the region, even as President Trump invites high-level dialogue with Iran," Mr Seche told The National.