August 24, 2016 / 4:05 PM / 3 years ago

Kerry to discuss Yemen, Syria with Gulf Arab states

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will present proposals on ending Yemen’s conflict and resuming peace talks in meetings with Saudi leaders over the next two days, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during an event to promote the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) educational programe for girls in Abuja, Nigeria August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

As Kerry landed in Jeddah for the talks with Saudi leaders and other Gulf Arab states, the U.S. official said he would update them on U.S. meetings with Russia addressing military cooperation in Syria.

Backing by the Saudis and other Gulf countries for the plan, which would see Washington share some intelligence with Moscow, is vital because of their support for opposition groups involved in Syria’s civil war. Russia supports President Bashar al-Assad.

Kerry will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday to try to close a deal on possible military cooperation aimed at defeating Islamic State militants in Syria.

A major focus of the Yemen talks, which will include British and United Arab Emirates officials, will be to try to end a 16-month conflict that has killed more than 6,500 people, about half them civilians. A Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen against Iran-allied Houthi rebels has come under increasing scrutiny for causing a large number of civilian casualties.

A senior State Department official declined to elaborate on Kerry’s proposals.

“The multilateral meeting on Yemen is designed to share ideas and initiatives for getting the political discussions back on track and trying to get a political solution,” the official said. It would also address getting aid delivered.

The U.S. military has coordinated with the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, helping ensure Saudi access to precision-guided munitions. The Pentagon has also sent U.S. military lawyers to help train Saudi counterparts in ensuring the legality of coalition strikes.

But there has been growing concern in Washington that the Saudi campaign may have targeted civilian installations including hospitals.

Human rights groups have argued that US forces may also be responsible under the rules of war for civilian casualties because of its support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen.

Kerry “will raise our concerns about civilian casualties and damage to civilian targets inside Yemen,” the official said, adding that he would press the Saudis to ensure air strikes were “discriminate and precise.”

An annual UN report on children and armed conflict said the Saudi-led campaign was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year. Saudi Arabia has said the report is based on inaccurate information.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Dominic Evans

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