Blinken defends human rights in first call with Saudi counterpart

Washington (AFP) –


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken championed human rights and called for an end to the war in Yemen in his first phone call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, the State Department said Saturday.

During their call Friday, the two men "discussed regional security, counterterrorism, and cooperation to deter and defend against attacks" on the Saudi kingdom, department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

"The Secretary outlined several key priorities of the new administration including elevating human rights issues and ending the war in Yemen," he added.

Former president Donald Trump had been accused by critics of having a low regard for human rights in his support for Saudi leaders.

When the US Congress deemed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump instead reiterated his support for the prince, explaining that the relationship with and arms sales to key ally Riyadh were more important than anything else.

Bin Farhan, for his part, congratulated Blinken on his appointment and said Riyadh looked forward to working with Washington, said the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The kingdom was keen to cooperate with President Joe Biden's administration to uphold "security and stability" in the region, it said.

Blinken and bin Farhan also discussed the "historical and strategic relations" between the two countries, the agency added.

The phone call comes after Biden announced Thursday he was ending US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, where it has been involved since 2015 to shore up the government against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Biden also said his administration would end all connected arms sales for ally Saudi Arabia in the war that has brought impoverished Yemen to its knees.

He appointed veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking, who has wide knowledge of the region, as US special envoy for Yemen.

Saudi Arabia reacted to Biden's decisions by welcoming his "commitment to cooperate with the kingdom to defend its sovereignty and counter threats against it," SPA said.

Price has noted that Biden made clear the United States still supported Saudi Arabia outside the Yemen war.

He described the administration's stance as a "return to standard procedures" in reviewing every arms deal.

In ending support for the Saudi war in Yemen, Biden was fulfilling a campaign promise to activists who have been horrified by the suffering.

The grinding six-year war has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, triggering what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

Yemen's internationally recognized government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Huthis have welcomed Biden's stance and the renewed push to end the conflict.