Iran's Rouhani: Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen a 'mistake'
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran's president on Thursday warned Saudi Arabia and its allies that their airstrikes' campaign in Yemen is a "mistake" and called for a halt to the strikes targeting the Iran-backed Shiite rebels who have seized much of the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.
For two weeks now, the Saudi-led coalition has failed to stop the power grab by the Houthi rebels, whose advance has forced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the country. Both Tehran and the rebels deny that Iran is arming them.
The airstrikes against the Houthis and their allies, including loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, have also failed to stop the rebels' advance on Aden, Yemen's second-largest city, which was declared a provisional capital by Hadi before he fled to Saudi Arabia.
In his speech in Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged for a ceasefire in Yemen to allow for broad-based talks on resolving the crisis.
"To the countries in the region, I say, let's adopt the spirit of brotherhood, let's respect each other and other nations. A nation does not give in through bombing," said Rouhani. "Do not kill innocent children. Let's think about an end to the war, about ceasefire and humanitarian assistance to the suffering people of Yemen."
He said a campaign of airstrikes and bombardment is "wrong," citing examples of Syria and Iraq, where a U.S.-led coalition is targeting Islamic State militants.
"You will learn, not later but soon, that you are making a mistake in Yemen, too," Rouhani said, without naming any particular country.
Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks Thursday in Islamabad with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in an effort to push for Yemen peace talks.
Zarif, who arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday, has said that Iran is ready to facilitate peace talks that would lead to a broad-based government in Yemen.
"We need to work together in order to put an end to the crisis in Yemen," Zarif said. "We need to find a political solution in Yemen, a comprehensive political solution leading an inclusive government through Yemeni dialogue."
Zarif's visit comes as Pakistan's parliament is debating whether to contribute forces to the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen.
Meanwhile, humanitarian groups say they are running out of supplies and have called for a temporary halt to the fighting to allow aid into Yemen. The World Health Organization said Wednesday that at least 643 civilians and combatants have been killed in the fighting since March 19. At least 2,226 have been wounded, many of them civilians, and another 100,000 have fled their homes.
Iran dispatched a naval destroyer and another logistic vessel on Wednesday to waters near Yemen as the United States quickened weapons supply to the Saudi-led coalition striking rebels there, underlining how foreign powers are deepening their involvement in the conflict.
Iran's English-language state broadcaster Press TV quoted Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari as saying the ships would be part of an anti-piracy campaign "safeguarding naval routes for vessels in the region."
In Pakistan, foreign ministry's spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said Thursday that Islamabad condemns the Yemeni rebels "who have overthrown a legitimate government ... recognized not just by Pakistan but by the international community and the United Nations."
For his part, Zarif also called for a ceasefire to allow aid and humanitarian assistance to reach embattled Yemen but stressed that the political solution is "up to the Yemenis."
"We can only facilitate as neighbors, as countries in the region, as countries with some influence one way or another," Zarif said.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad. Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo.