US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has called upon Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to find an "urgent" political solution to the devastating three-year-old conflict in neighboring Yemen, which has claimed the lives of thousands of people and left the impoverished nation’s infrastructure in ruins.
Mattis and bin Salman met at the Pentagon on Thursday as the de facto ruler of the Arab kingdom is on a tour of the United States, which began earlier this week with a White House visit.
“As you discussed with President (Donald) Trump on Tuesday, we must also reinvigorate urgent efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Yemen and we support you in this regard,” the US defense secretary told his Saudi counterpart.
“We are going to end this war; that is the bottom line. And we are going to end it on positive terms for the people of Yemen but also security for the nations in the peninsula,” Mattis added.
The Saudi crown prince, speaking through a translator, told Mattis that cooperation between the Pentagon and Saudi Arabia has "improved tremendously" of late.
The remarks came only two days after the US Senate killed a bipartisan bid seeking to end US support for Saudi Arabia's aerial bombardment campaign in Yemen.
Mattis had lobbied Congress to reject the bill, claiming that restrictions could increase civilian casualties in Yemen, jeopardize the so-called counter-terrorism cooperation between Washington and Riyadh, and “reduce" Washington's "influence with the Saudis.”
About 14,000 people have been killed since the onset of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Yemen in March 2015. Much of the Arabian Peninsula country's infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and factories, has been reduced to rubble due to the war.
The United Nations says a record 22.2 million people are in need of food aid, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.
A high-ranking UN aid official recently warned against the “catastrophic” living conditions in Yemen, stating that there is a growing risk of famine and cholera there.
“After three years of conflict, conditions in Yemen are catastrophic,” John Ging, UN director of aid operations, told the UN Security Council on February 27.
He added, “People's lives have continued unraveling. Conflict has escalated since November driving an estimated 100,000 people from their homes.”
Ging further noted that cholera has infected 1.1 million people in Yemen since last April, and a new outbreak of diphtheria has occurred in the war-ravaged Arab country since 1982.
US OKs $1bn in Saudi military deals
Meanwhile, the US State Department said in a statement it had approved military contracts with Saudi Arabia worth over $1 billion.
According to the State Department, 6,600 TOW 2B anti-tank missiles are to be supplied under the biggest contract, which is worth $670 million.
A $106 million deal for helicopter maintenance and another contract for ground vehicle parts worth $300 million were also approved on Thursday.
The State Department said it had notified the US Congress of the possible military equipment contracts.
"This proposed sale will support US foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East," the statement said.
The three contracts are highly expected to be approved by Congress in the wake of the Senate’s Tuesday rejection of the bill to end US support for the Saudi war.
A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed earlier this month that the US has increased its arms sales by 25 percent over the past five years.
According to the SIPRI report, Saudi Arabia increased its arms purchases by 225 percent over the past five years, importing 98 percent of its weapons from the US and EU countries.