Pakistani PM urges Iran to persuade Yemen's rebels to talks
ISLAMABAD (AP) Pakistan's prime minister on Monday called on Iran to use its influence to help bring Yemen's Shiite rebels to the negotiating table on the crisis roiling their country, where Saudi-led airstrikes have been targeting the rebels for over two weeks.
The call came after the parliament in the predominantly majority Sunni Pakistan voted on Friday to stay out of the Yemen conflict and not send troops for the Saudi-led coalition, as Pakistani officials said the kingdom had asked for. Lawmakers also unanimously demanded that Pakistan "maintain its neutrality in the Yemen conflict" in order to help negotiate a diplomatic solution.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he had discussed Yemen in depth with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who visited Islamabad last week and that he denounced the power grab by the Yemeni rebels known as Houthis.
"The violent overthrow of Yemen's legitimate government by the Houthis has set a dangerous precedent," Sharif said. "It is fraught with serious risks for the entire region."
In the vote Friday, the Pakistani parliament said the country's diplomats will "initiate steps before the U.N. Security Council ... to bring about an immediate cease-fire in Yemen" and warned of regional implications if the conflict blows into an all-out sectarian war.
But the parliament decision drew criticism from Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf Arab region that are part of the coalition.
Sharif insisted on Monday that the disappointment expressed in Gulf countries was the result of an apparent misinterpretation of the parliament resolution and assured Saudi Arabia of Pakistan's full support as an ally.
"Pakistan doesn't abandon friends and strategic partners especially when their security is under threat," Sharif said.
"We have already intensified contacts with Saudi Arabia to monitor the ground situation and possible threats to the security and territorial integrity of the kingdom," Sharif said.
Earlier, Pakistani officials said that Saudi Arabia had asked Pakistan to provide troops, warplanes and warships for the anti-Houthis campaign.
The kingdom has purportedly been seeking to expand the coalition, made up of fellow Gulf nations as well as Egypt and Sudan, which has waged the airstrikes campaign for over two weeks and is reportedly considering a ground incursion.
At the same time Shiite power Iran, which backs the Houthis, has also lobbied Pakistan and other Sunni nations to back a cease-fire and a negotiated end to the conflict.
The airstrikes, along with escalated fighting on the ground between the Houthis and supporters of Yemen's beleaguered President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was forced to flee the country, have pushed Yemen into collapse.
"We believe that the restoration of President Hadi's government will be an important step forward toward establishing peace in Yemen," Sharif said.
The World Health Organization said last Wednesday that at least 643 civilians and combatants have been killed since March 19, before the air campaign began. At least 2,226 have been wounded, and another 100,000 have fled their homes.
Also Monday, Human Rights Watch urged the Saudi-led coalition and the United States to take measures to minimize harm to civilians during military operations in Yemen, releasing letters it wrote to Saudi King Salman and U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
The New York-based group said that the U.S. should investigate alleged laws-of-war violations by coalition forces, such as a recent strike on a displaced persons camp in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, and also facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to populations at risk.
Associated Press Writer Brian Rohan contributed to this report from Cairo.