Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, May 2015
Obama Meets Saudi Crown Prince, his Deputy, Yemen Truce Broadly Holds, Iranian Warships Escort Yemen-Bound Cargo Ship
May 14, 2015
Obama meets two Saudi princes after King sent regrets
Wed May 13, 2015 8:56pm EDT
WASHINGTON | By Jeff Mason
President Barack Obama on Wednesday discussed U.S. efforts to forge an international nuclear deal with Iran during talks with Saudi leaders and went out of his way to play down the absence of Saudi King Salman from a summit likely to be dominated by tensions over the topic.
Obama met with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House after King Salman pulled out of the visit.
"The United States and Saudi Arabia have an extraordinary friendship and relationship that dates back to (President) Franklin Roosevelt," Obama said at the start of the meeting. "We are continuing to build that relationship during a very challenging time," he said.
King Salman decided abruptly to skip the White House meeting and a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the president's Camp David retreat in Maryland outside Washington on Thursday.
The White House has sought to counter perceptions that his absence was a snub that would undermine efforts to reassure the region Washington remains committed to its security in the face of Iran's power and influence.
Obama said he and the Saudi leaders would discuss how to build on a ceasefire in Yemen and work toward "an inclusive, legitimate government" in Saudi Arabia's impoverished neighbor, where a Saudi-led coalition has been bombing Iran-supported Houthi rebels.
He did not mention the Iran nuclear talks in his remarks to the media. White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the leaders discussed the "importance of a comprehensive agreement" between Iran and world powers "that verifiably ensures the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program," referring to efforts by the United States and five other world powers to reach an agreement on curbing Iran's atomic program.
They also discussed efforts to counter Islamic State militants and cooperate to resolve conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, she said.
White House Josh Earnest said King Salman had not expressed any specific concerns about the agenda at Camp David when he met Secretary of State John Kerry in Riyadh last week, and added it was unprecedented that two high profile Saudi leaders were attending.
"That is an indication that the Saudis certainly take all of this seriously," Earnest told reporters.
The Gulf Cooperation Council includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman.
U.S. officials have portrayed the summit as a working meeting rather than a symbolic get-together. But the absence of many top Arab leaders, in addition to King Salman, is viewed as a reflection of frustration with Obama’s pursuit of the international nuclear deal with Iran and a perceived U.S. failure to support opposition fighters in Syria.
Obama called Saudi Arabia a critical partner in the fight against Islamic State and highlighted his interactions with the two leaders who came in King Salman's place.
Crown Prince bin Nayef said his country attached great importance to the "strategic and historic relationship" with Washington.
Obama did not have private meetings on his public schedule with the leaders from the other countries. They arrived at the White House later on Wednesday evening for a dinner with the president.
Yemen truce broadly holds, but reports of violations
Wed May 13, 2015 6:31pm EDT
By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohammed Mukhashaf
A five-day truce in Yemen appeared to be broadly holding on Wednesday, despite reports of air strikes overnight by Saudi-led forces and continued military activity by the Iranian-allied Houthi group.
Witnesses in the southwestern city of Abyan said warplanes had hit positions there after the Houthi seized the area following the start late on Tuesday of the ceasefire, which is intended to ward off a humanitarian catastrophe.
Residents of the southern provinces of Shabwa and Lahj, which have witnessed heavy ground clashes between local militiamen and the Houthis, also reported air strikes overnight.
Saudi Arabia and the Houthis traded accusations of ceasefire violations along the mountainous Yemeni-Saudi border, but residents said hostilities appeared to have largely died down.
An alliance of Gulf Arab nations has been bombing Houthi militia and allied army units that control much of Yemen since March 26 in what they say is an attempt to restore exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Muslim allies believe the Houthis are a proxy for the influence of their arch-rival, Shi'ite Iran, in a regional power struggle that has helped exacerbate sectarian tensions across the Middle East.
Aid agencies said the five-day break in fighting to allow fuel, medicine, food and aid workers to enter Yemen could be a "lifeline" for civilians trapped in conflict zones.
"There has been no break whatsoever in the fighting until now, and the people of Yemen need a respite," said Sitara Jabeen, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the Middle East.
However, there was no immediate word of any new supplies reaching the impoverished nation, that has been beset by more than four years of political chaos and violence.
An Iranian-flagged ship that Tehran says is carrying humanitarian supplies for Yemen could reach the port of Hodeida within four to five days, raising the prospect of a possible confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi Arabia, seeking to prevent arms from reaching the Houthis, says it will not let any ships pass without authorisation. Iran says it won't let Saudis search the vessel and has said its warships will escort the vessel.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Reyad Yassin Abdulla said in remarks broadcast on Al Jazeera television that Hadi's government had not been approached by Iran to deliver supplies. He said Hadi's administration had authorised the Saudi-led coalition to "deter whoever thinks he can violate (Yemeni decisions)."
In the bulwark of opposition to the Houthis in the southern city of Aden, the scale of over six weeks of near constant clashes and gunfire emerged.
Over 600 people had been killed and 3,000 had been wounded, while 22,000 residents had been displaced since the Houthis first pushed into the city on March 25, local watchdog group, the Aden Centre for Monitoring, said on Wednesday.
The United Nations believes 828 civilians, including 182 children, have been killed across Yemen since March 26.
Aden locals expressed doubts that the ceasefire would last.
"Aden needs a humanitarian truce so badly, given the lack of food, fuel and everything else. But we question the intentions of the Houthis and believe they will take advantage of the truce to take more areas," said Hassan al-Jamal, a resident of Aden.
Residents said heavy clashes between local militiamen and Houthi fighters broke out in the early evening at Ras Amran, a suburb west of Aden.
Saudi state television quoted an official source at the Defence Ministry as saying projectiles had fallen on the Najran and Jizan areas on Wednesday morning and that some sniper fire by the Houthis had been detected. There were no casualties.
"The position adopted by the armed forces was to exercise restraint, abiding by the humanitarian truce approved by the coalition forces," the television quoted the official as saying.
The Houthis al-Masirah television said at least two shells were fired from Saudi territory towards Yemen and some 150 rounds of automatic fire, but made no mention of any casualties.
The Saudi state news agency SPA said King Salman, at a royal court ceremony attended by President Hadi and Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, authorised the laying of the foundation stone for a humanitarian relief centre.
The Saudi-owned al-Arabiya channel said the monarch had allocated one billion riyals ($265 million) to the Yemen relief work, in additional to a similar amount he had pledged earlier.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Writing by Noah Browning and Sami Aboudi, editing by Crispian Balmer)
Iranian Warship's Missile System Locks on Invading Target in Gulf of Aden
Iranian destroyer, Alborz, locked its missile systems on an invading vessel in the Gulf of Aden after a high-speed boat left Yemen's coasts and rushed to attack it.
The Iranian destroyer's missile systems locked on the target after an invading high-speed boat appeared on the monitor screens of the radar systems in Alborz operations room.
According to reports, the invading vessel changed course and returned to the coast after the Iranian destroyer warned it would target the vessel in seconds.
"If they ignored our warning, they would be killed with the first bullets of Alborz," Commodore Hassan Maqsoudlou, the captain of Alborz destroyer, said.
He underlined that the Iranian Naval forces are prepared at any moment to defend the Islamic Iran's interests.
The incident took place as Iran's 34th fleet of warships is in the Gulf of Aden on an anti-piracy mission, and as an Iranian cargo ship carrying humanitarian aid is on its way to Yemen and as the naval fleets of the US and some other western countries have several times reduced their distance from the Iranian fleet in violation of the international rules.
In a last such case, the US and French warships and military aircraft changed their direction in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday night after being warned by an Iranian flotilla to keep distant.
The US and French reconnaissance planes, helicopters and warships approached the Iranian warships in a provocative move, ignoring the internationally set 5-mile standard distance from Iran's 34th fleet of warships deployed in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday night.
The vessels and aircraft then received a warning from Alborz destroyer, apologized and rapidly changed direction.
Also on May 4, a US warship and military planes changed their direction as they were patrolling in the Gulf of Aden after they came close to an Iranian naval fleet and were warned to move away.
2 US reconnaissance planes named P3C (Papa 3 Charlie) and US Navy destroyer, DDG81, approached several Iranian warships in the Gulf of Aden.
The US Navy vessel and planes then received a warning from 'Alborz' and changed direction.
The Navy's 34th Fleet, comprising Alborz destroyer and Bushehr helicopter-carrier warship, is conducting anti-piracy patrols in the high seas and Gulf of Aden.
The mission of the 34th fleet will last about three months in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
Earlier this month, the Iranian flotilla of warships repelled pirates' attacks against a foreign cargo ship whose requests for help were ignored by the US, French and Saudi-led coalition members' naval fleets deployed in the Gulf of Aden.
"Checking foreign warships in the international waters and surveillance of potential threats to Iran's national interests is our essential responsibility," the commander of the 34th flotilla of warships, Commodore Mostafa Tajeddini, said earlier this month.
In relevant remarks early May, Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said Iranian warships were carrying out patrolling missions in Bab al-Mandab Strait, the Gulf of Aden.
"We don’t enter any countries' (territorial) waters and are present in the free waters based on the international laws and regulations," he added.
Late last month, Commodore Tajeddini dismissed Pentagon and US media reports that his warships were made to change their route in the Gulf of Aden after receiving warnings from the US navy ships present in the region.
"The news report by the foreign media that we have changed our route after the US fleet's arrival is only a media ballyhoo," Tajeddini said.
"We have had communications with many naval units since we entered the Gulf of Aden, but no country has ever dared to warn the Iranian Navy," he added.
Also late in April, Sayyari rejected media reports that Iran had been shooed away from the Gulf of Aden by the American warships, and stressed Tehran's firm decision to continue deployment in the waterway to protect the country's cargo ships from pirate attacks.
Asked about the US and Saudi Arabia's claims that the Iranian warships planned to deliver weapons to Ansarullah revolutionary movement in Yemen when they received a warning from the US warships and left the region, he said the Iranian fleet of warships were sent to the free waters based on the international laws to protect the cargo ships and oil tankers from pirates' attacks, and not delivering weapons to other nations.
Implying that allegations of the Saudis and Americans were not true, the Admiral reminded that he, as Iran's Navy commander, had officially stated the mission of the Iranian fleet and the location of its mission (Gulf of Aden), and the presence and mission of the Iranian warships was completely clear and could be monitored and verified.
He also stressed that Iran would never allow anyone to inspect its ships and vessels.
"We are present in this region and provide security coverage for our ships since, anyway, it is the route for the voyage of our ships," he said.
Stressing Iran's firm decision to continue deployment in the international waters, including the Gulf of Aden, he said, "We would never leave the region and give up protecting our cargo ships for the sake of their words."
He underscored that the Iranian flotilla of warships not only provides security for the country's cargo ships but also protect other states' ships and oil tankers from pirate attacks.
According to UN Security Council resolutions, different countries can send their warships to the Gulf of Aden and coastal waters of Somalia against the pirates and even with prior notice to Somali government enter the territorial waters of that country in pursuit of Somali sea pirates.
The Gulf of Aden - which links the Indian Ocean with the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea - is an important energy corridor, particularly because Persian Gulf oil is shipped to the West via the Suez Canal.
48 People Killed in Saudi Air Raids on Yemen
Saudi fighter jets continued bombing the Yemeni provinces of Hajjah and al-Hudaydah late on Tuesday, and claimed the lives of at least 48 people.
Saudi warplanes bombed a prison and residential areas in Hajjah late on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people and injuring 25 others.
Meanwhile, at least 33 people have been killed and 10 others wounded in Saudi airstrikes against a restaurant in the historical town of Zabid in the Yemeni province of al-Hudaydah.
The Arabic-language al-Masirah satellite television network said on Wednesday that Saudi warplanes hit the district of Malahidh in Sa’ada Province.
On May 7, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced his country’s decision to declare a five-day halt to its brutal attacks on Yemen. Yemen’s Ansarullah movement has announced its cooperation in any actions that will stop suffering in the country.
Riyadh, however, violated the ceasefire in war-torn neighboring Yemen just minutes after it went into effect.
Saudi Arabia has been striking Yemen for 49 days now to restore power to fugitive president Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh. The Saudi-led aggression has so far killed at least 3,803 Yemenis, including hundreds of women and children.
Hadi stepped down in January and refused to reconsider the decision despite calls by Ansarullah revolutionaries of the Houthi movement.
Despite Riyadh's claims that it is bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters, Saudi warplanes are flattening residential areas and civilian infrastructures.
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