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US envoy to Yemen meets with President Hadi ahead of proposed peace talks

US envoy Tim Lenderking stressed the Biden administration's goal of ending the war and 'suffering of the Yemeni people' via UN-led negotiations
A Yemeni waves the country's national flag on a billboard showing President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi
A Yemeni waves the country's national flag atop a billboard showing President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi during a rally commemorating the 10th anniversary of Arab Spring uprising on 11 February, 2021 (AFP)

The United States' new special envoy to Yemen met with the country's president and internationally recognised government in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, as part of the Biden administration's efforts to end the devastating conflict. 

Tim Lenderking met with President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and Yemen's foreign minister, Ahmed bin Mubarak, in Riyadh, the US embassy to Yemen announced in a statement

'Our primary objective is to... end the war and the suffering of the Yemeni people'

- Tim Lenderking, US envoy to Yemen

Lenderking said Washington's priority was to work with the United Nations, including UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, to mediate peace talks. 

"Our primary objective is to bring the parties together in coordination with UNSE Griffiths for a negotiated settlement that will end the war and the suffering of the Yemeni people," Lenderking said, as quoted by the US embassy. 

Hadi welcomed the meeting, saying in a statement that Biden and his administration, staffed by many Obama-era diplomats, had "more experience in Yemen and its affairs" after overseeing the peaceful transfer of power from longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh under the Gulf Initiative in 2012.

UN officials have long been attempting to revive peace talks to end the war, which the organisation has dubbed the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

Balancing US-Saudi relations 

Lenderking, a veteran diplomat with extensive experience in Gulf politics - including a stint as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Saudi embassy - was named US special envoy to Yemen during President Joe Biden's first foreign policy address last week. 

During the speech, Biden stressed the importance of ending the six-year war in Yemen and officially announced the end of US offensive support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, principally the United Arab Emirates, have since 2015 been conducting a bombing campaign in Yemen against the country's Houthi rebels to restore the government of President Hadi. 

Moving away from former President Donald Trump's near-blanket support for the Saudi-led coalition, Biden noted last week that US strategy in Yemen would now be focused on ensuring "support for the United Nations-led initiative to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels and restore long-dormant peace talks". 

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As Lenderking met with Yemeni leaders on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken sat down with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud. 

During the meeting, Blinken "condemned" the Houthi attacks against the Abha International Airport on Wednesday, which struck a civilian airliner. 

Last week the Biden administration reversed the former US president's last-minute terror designation levied against Yemen's Houthi rebels, but has continued Washington's criticism of the group. 

In a statement on Thursday, the State Department said Blinken and his Saudi counterpart "discussed joint efforts to bolster Saudi defenses against attacks on the Kingdom".

"The Secretary and Foreign Minister outlined diplomatic outreach to find a negotiated political settlement to the war in Yemen, including through the U.S. Special Envoy to Yemen's recent engagements with regional partners, humanitarian aid organizations, the U.N. Special Envoy, and other stakeholders," the department noted. 

The grinding six-year war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than three million people, according to the UN.  

Close to 80 percent of Yemen's population of 29 million people need some form of aid for survival, much of which is organised through humanitarian groups coordinating with the Houthi group on the ground.