US President Joe Biden said Saudi Arabia had committed to extending and strengthening a UN-mediated truce in Yemen and will engage in talks to end the war that’s triggered a humanitarian crisis and roiled the Persian Gulf.
The announcement came after Biden met with Saudi officials including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah. Biden vowed on the campaign trail to turn the world’s biggest oil exporter into a “pariah” over its human rights record, including its involvement in Yemen.
All sides in the seven-year-old war agreed to a two-month truce in April, renewing the arrangement for a further two months in June. The White House statement suggests the fragile cease-fire will once again be extended.
Saudi Arabia entered the Yemen war in 2015, when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels captured the capital Sanaa. The conflict has exacted a devastating humanitarian toll in Yemen, contributing to hunger and disease in what was already one of the poorest Arab countries.
The Houthis retaliated with repeated drone and rocket attacks on Saudi energy and military facilities and earlier this year struck the United Arab Emirates.
Biden pledged to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against all external attacks, particularly those launched by the Houthis.
He did not say whether that commitment would involve weapons sales.
Early in his presidency, Biden froze sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia that were destined for use in Yemen and removed the Houthis from the US list of terrorist organizations, a designation that aid organizations said was complicating efforts to help civilians.
Those decisions exacerbated strains in US relations with a historic ally. The Biden administration decided to warm relations with the Saudis again after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed up gasoline prices and threatened to derail the economy ahead of midterm elections.