Riyadh - The United States wants to see a strong Saudi Arabia, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said during talks Wednesday aimed at reinvigorating the Riyadh-Washington alliance.
Jim Mattis said that Iran’s destabilising influence in the Middle East would have to be overcome to end the conflict in Yemen, as the United States weighs increasing support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting there.
At least 10,000 people have been killed and more than 3 million displaced in the war in Yemen, now in its third year. Millions of people are also struggling to feed themselves.
“We will have to overcome Iran’s efforts to destabilise yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah, but the bottom line is we are on the right path for it,” Mattis told reporters in Riyadh after meeting senior Saudi officials.
Mattis said the goal was for there to be a political solution through UN-brokered negotiations to resolve the conflict in Yemen.
Mattis, meeting top officials in the Saudi capital, also hinted that President Donald Trump could visit the kingdom, a longtime US ally which has welcomed Washington’s firmer line against common adversary Iran.
“It is in our interest to see a strong Saudi Arabia,” Mattis said at the start of talks with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the defence minister, pointing to the country’s “military security services and secret services.”
“What we can do here today could actually open the door possibly to bringing our president to Saudi Arabia,” Mattis said. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, earlier met King Salman at Al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh, where he told the monarch: “It’s good to be back.”
Mattis commanded troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He arrived in the kingdom on Tuesday afternoon to listen to Saudi leaders and learn “what are their priorities,” an American defence official said earlier.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have a decades-old relationship based on the exchange of American security for Saudi oil. But ties between Riyadh and Washington became increasingly frayed during the administration of president Barack Obama.
Saudi leaders felt Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and was tilting toward Riyadh’s regional rival Iran.
The Sunni Muslim kingdom “felt marginalised” during international negotiations on a nuclear accord with Shiite Iran, the defence official said.
That deal, signed in July 2015 by the Obama administration, saw the lifting of international sanctions in exchange for guarantees that Tehran would not pursue a nuclear weapons capability.
Saudi leaders worry about Iran interfering in Arab countries by using local Shiite communities, as in Bahrain, Lebanon and Yemen.
Bordering Saudi Arabia, Yemen has been torn for more than two years by a civil war between Iran-backed Huthi rebels, their allies, and pro-government forces aided by a Saudi-led military coalition that receives some military support from the US.
Pence vows ‘overwhelming’
response to N Korea
The United States will counter any North Korean attack with an “overwhelming and effective” response, Vice President Mike Pence vowed Wednesday, as he stood on the deck of a massive American aircraft carrier docked in Japan.
Donald Trump’s deputy is in the region to reassure allies fretting over Pyongyang’s quickening missile programme, and its apparent readiness to carry out another banned nuclear test in its quest to develop an atomic weapon that can hit the US mainland.
Pence, whose visit started in South Korea the day after the failed launch by North Korea of what analysts said could have been a new missile, described the threat from the isolated regime as growing. Aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the vice president, adopting a Churchillian tone, told troops he was there as “storm clouds gather on the horizon” of Northeast Asia.
“North Korea is the most dangerous and urgent threat to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific,” Pence said.
But, “we will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response.”
Pence’s comments come after a senior North Korean official warned the regime had no intention of dialling down its missile programme, pledging weekly tests and threatening “all-out war” if the US took any action against it.
That kind of rhetoric has unnerved allies in Japan and South Korea, who would be at the sharp end of any North Korean response.
Seoul, the South Korean capital, is just 35 miles (56 km) away from the military demarcation line that splits the Korean peninsula, and is within easy range of North Korean long-range artillery.
The Ronald Reagan, whose home port is Yokosuka in Japan, is part of the Seventh Fleet and is regularly deployed around the western Pacific.
The Navy had said earlier this month that a strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson had been ordered to “sail north” as a warning to Pyongyang.
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis also said the Vinson was “on her way up” to the peninsula, while Trump said an “armada” had been dispatched, adding fuel to already rising tensions.