Yemen's Houthis 'Passed Up a Major Opportunity' to Broker Deal With U.N., White House Says

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels "passed up a major opportunity" with the U.N. to discuss ending years-long conflict in the country and accelerating humanitarian aid, the White House's State Department said Friday.

The Houthis declined the opportunity to speak with U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths while he was in Oman. The State Department said the Houthis should immediately contact Griffiths to discuss a peace proposal, the Associated Press reported.

The State Department said it was "a fair deal on the table that will bring immediate relief to the Yemeni people."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Supporters of Yemen's Shiite Houthi Movement
Supporters of Yemen's Shiite Houthi movement pump their fists during a rally in the capital Sanaa on May 7, 2021, marking the yearly Al-Quds (Jerusalem) day, which falls on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan. The White House criticized the Houthis on Friday for refusing to meet with U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths to discuss a peace proposal for Yemen. Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images

The Houthi rebels are currently conducting an offensive in Yemen's Marib region. Yemen's humanitarian crisis dates to 2014, when the Houthis took over the country's capital of Sanaa. More than 100,000 have died as a result of the conflict.

Griffiths traveled in the Middle East this week and was accompanied for part of the time by U.S. envoy Timothy Lenderking, other senior administration officials and members of Congress.

The State Department said other parties to the conflict, including the internationally recognized government of Yemen, are ready to discuss a peace proposal.

"Contradictory to their pronouncements regarding the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Houthis worsen it by continuing to attack Marib and exacerbating dire conditions for already vulnerable, internally displaced Yemenis," the State Department statement said.

"With the growing international consensus and momentum toward ending the conflict in Yemen without further delay, all parties must engage with the UN Special Envoy and address the proposal that is on the table, for the sake of the Yemeni people."

The statement was the latest in a series of Biden administration rebukes against the Houthis, who have intensified their attacks in recent months despite the administration removing them from the U.S. list of "foreign terrorist organizations" in February. That move reversed the Trump administration's designation of the Houthis in January and was aimed at improving humanitarian relief distribution to Yemeni civilians.

A Saudi-led coalition allied with Yemen's exiled government has been fighting the rebels since March 2015. The conflict has pushed the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine.

UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths
U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths (left) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry meet at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo, Egypt, on April 25, 2021. Nariman El-Mofty/AP Photo