US secretary of defence makes first call to Saudi crown prince

Lloyd Austin and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discuss Houthi attacks on kingdom and efforts to end war in Yemen

(FILES) In this file photo US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a visit by US President Joe Biden to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, February 10, 2021. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin  will this week reaffirm Washington's commitment to NATO and reassure allies they will be consulted on important decisions, hoping to turn the page on four years of withering criticism from former president Donald Trump. NATO defense ministers are meeting virtually February 17 and February 18, 2021, and the new Pentagon chief will send "a supportive message ... about how relevant NATO is," his spokesman John Kirby said. / AFP / SAUL LOEB
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US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin made his first call to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in which they discussed the Iran-backed Houthi rebels’ attacks on the kingdom and efforts to end the war in Yemen.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Gen Austin reaffirmed to Prince Mohammed, who is also the Saudi Minister of Defence, the US commitment to their strategic defence partnership.

“He underscored Saudi Arabia’s role as a pillar of the regional security architecture in the Middle East and the importance of sharing the responsibility of regional security and stability,” Mr Kirby said.

Gen Austin tweeted that the call was productive and "discussed the continued commitment to the 70-year US-Saudi security partnership".

The US defence chief said there was shared commitment between Riyadh and Washington “to countering Iran’s destabilising activities and defeating violent extremist organisations in the region".

Gen Austin condemned the recent Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and expressed US commitment to assist the kingdom in defending its borders.

Houthi missile attacks increased in the past month. Rockets recently hit the country's Abha International Airport and caused a civilian plane on the tarmac to catch fire.

At the same time, Gen Austin reiterated changes under the Biden administration as it relates to the Yemen war, including halting offensive support to the Saudi-led coalition.

The US also recently revoked the Houthis' terrorist designation but called on the armed group “to halt their advance on Marib and cease all military operations and turn to negotiations”.

US envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking recently made his first trip to Saudi Arabia and is intensifying Washington's diplomatic efforts to end the war, which began in 2015.

Gen Austin's call was the first from a Biden Cabinet official to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.

This week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that US President Joe Biden would be communicating with Saudi Arabia's King Salman.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has had two calls with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.