Iran's Zarif backs Yemen ceasefire in talks with rebel leader

Muscat (AFP) –


Iran's foreign minister met the Yemeni rebel spokesman in Oman on Wednesday, reiterating Tehran's support for a ceasefire and a return to talks to end the country's long conflict.

Mohammad Javad Zarif's comments came a day after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose country leads a military coalition supporting the Yemeni government, called on the Huthis to stop fighting and enter peace negotiations.

At the talks with Huthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam, Zarif "once again stressed our country's view regarding the political solution being the only solution to the crisis of Yemen", the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The foreign minister "emphasised our country's support for a ceasefire and Yemeni-Yemeni talks", it added.

Abdul Salam and other leaders of the Iranian-backed rebel movement live in exile in Muscat.

Several meetings have taken place in past years between Iran's chief diplomat and the Huthi spokesman in the Omani capital.

The war in Yemen, in which tens of thousands of people have been killed since the conflict erupted in 2014, has flared anew in the past two months with a rebel campaign to seize Marib city, the government's last stronghold in the north.

Saudi Arabia has proposed a "comprehensive" ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table, a proposal that the Huthis immediately rejected, saying a blockade on the country must first be lifted.

Riyadh accuses its arch-foe Iran of supporting the rebels with weapons and missiles and helping them build drones used to attack the kingdom.

Tehran denies the allegations and says its support for the Huthis is solely political.

On Tuesday, the Saudi crown prince struck a conciliatory tone in a television interview, saying he sought "good" relations with Tehran, after sources said the rivals had held secret talks in Baghdad.

"Iran is a neighbouring country, and all we aspire for is a good and special relationship with Iran," he said.

The two countries, locked in a struggle for regional dominance, cut ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the kingdom's execution of a revered Shiite cleric.

The talks in Baghdad, facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, have been confirmed to AFP.

In his meeting with Abdul Salam, Zarif expressed regret over "the six-year imposed war on the people of Yemen, and called for ending the war and lifting" the Saudi-enforced blockade on the country.