On June 27, 2016, a Western delegation headed by U.S. Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, U.S. ambassador to Kuwait Douglas Silliman and British Special Envoy to Yemen Alan Duncan met with the Houthi delegation to the Yemen peace talks in Kuwait, headed by Houthi spokesman Muhammad 'Abd Al-Salam. Following the meeting, Yemeni and Arab media outlets that oppose the Houthis in Yemen published numerous reports claiming that the Houthi representatives had apologized to the Americans for the Houthis' use of the slogan "death to America, death to Israel, a curse upon the Jews and victory for Islam," claiming that they merely used it to recruit support in Yemen.
According to the reports, the Houthis asked the Western delegation to dissuade the Arab coalition from attacking and capturing Sana'a, the Houthi capital, and promised to give up their weapons and to make substantial changes on the ground as a gesture to the U.S. The reports claimed further that the Houthis had promised not to harm American interests, and some reports stated that this revealed the Houthis' grim situation in Yemen.
The London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi claimed that this meeting exposed the ties between the Houthis and the Americans. It added that this was not the first meeting between the sides and that many Houthi officials have visited Washington in the recent years, more than any other Yemeni representatives.
Houthi fighters bearing a banner with the slogan "Death to America, death to Israel, a curse upon the Jews and victory for Islam" (Image:Arabi21.com, June 29, 2016)
Yemeni Journalist: The Houthis Told The Americans They Were Ready To Change Their Slogan To 'Long Live America', Asked U.S. To Dissuade Arab Coalition From Attacking Sana'a
A few hours after the meeting in Kuwait between the Western and Houthi delegations, Yemeni journalist Sam Al-Ghubari, who opposes the Houthis, posted on his Facebook page details from the meeting that he claimed to have learned from the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, who had attended it. Al-Ghubari stated that these details reflected the Houthi's grim situation in Yemen. He quoted the U.S. ambassador as saying that "[Houthi delegation member] Hamza Al-Houthi vehemently apologized for the slogan 'death to America,' explaining that it was for local consumption [only] and that [the Houthis] were prepared to surrender all their weapons as [a sign of their] commitment to their new friends [the Americans]. [Houthi delegation member and former Hadramaut governor] Nasser Baqzaqouz, [who also attended the meeting,] occasionally intervened [in the conversation] to stress that [the Houthis] would not pose a threat to the U.S., saying 'who are we to threaten you?'"
According to the report, Houthi spokesman Muhammad 'Abd Al-Salam opened the meeting by saying that the Houthis were protecting American interests better than the Americans themselves, and apologized repeatedly for the Houthis' anti-American discourse. He emphasized that the U.S. was the only country in the world capable of stopping the moves of the Arab coalition and of persuading it to forgo liberating Sana'a and restoring the country to president Hadi.
The American ambassador, for his part, pointed out to the Houthis that they had not made any concessions in the peace talks, and had not even expressed a commitment to UNSC 2216 (demanding to end Yemen violence). Muhammad 'Abd Al-Salam replied that they had mouthed opposition to the resolution only because they feared for their military bases, and that all they wanted now was to reach an agreement and protect their supporters against retaliation after they withdrew their forces. He said: "We are prepared to make genuine concessions and work with the [Yemeni] government and with president Hadi as an unarmed civilian force, provided that our security is guaranteed..." He added that the war had taught them a great deal and had cost them much more than they had anticipated, and that they had completely changed..."
The American diplomats emphasized, according to the report, that Saudi Arabia was their historic strategic ally and the U.S. would not permit the Houthis to harm its security and would not allow the situation in Yemen to remain as it was. Rather, the Houthis had to work to end what they had begun. Muhammad 'Abd Al Salam responded that the Houthis were prepared "to heed the Americans if they persuaded the Arab coalition not to enter Sana'a and not to restore the country [to Hadi] by force. Moreover, they were prepared to change their slogan to 'long live America.'" The report claimed that the American ambassador and the other diplomats had responded to this with laughter, but the ambassador stressed that the Houthis had to make practical concessions on the ground. Muhammad 'Abd Al-Salaam and Hamza Al-Houthi asked for an extension to consult with the Houthi leadership in Sad'a."
Al-Ghubari stated further that the meeting was very cordial and that, upon emerging from it, Houthi delegation member 'Hamid 'Assim "pranced like a child" and congratulated 'Abd Al-Salam for cleverly hoodwinking the Americans, but 'Abd Al-Salam ignored him."
A few hours after the publication of this report, the anti-Houthi news network Sada Aden reported, citing a diplomatic source in Kuwait, that Hamza Al-Houthi had told the American delegation: "We are your tool in the war on terror. You must support us as you supported the [Nouri] Al-Maliki government in Iraq. Our goal is one and we are confident that the U.S. will not forgo [our help]."
'Al-Quds Al-Arabi': The Meeting Exposed The Close Secret Ties Between The Houthis And The U.S.
On June 29, 2016, the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, which also opposes the Houthis, likewise reported on the meeting and on the Houthis' apology for using the slogan "Death to America, death to Israel." Citing sources "close to the meeting in Kuwait," the daily claimed that Hamza Al-Houthi had promised the Americans that, as "a gesture of friendship towards the U.S." the armed Houthi forces would withdraw from the Yemeni cities and surrender their weapons (though without specifying to whom). The daily speculated that the "amicable" meeting revealed the existence of secret understandings between the Houthis and the U.S., and that this was why the American State Department opposed designating the Houthis a terrorist organization. The daily also claimed that this was not the first meeting between the parties. In the last two years, it said, many senior Houthi officials have visited Washington, coming there much more frequently than any other senior Yemeni officials. Moreover, there were also meeting in Muscat and other capitals, attesting to "the real [character of the] relations between the Houthis and the Americans, to the point that that some view the Houthis as Iran's tool for promoting Washington's objectives to spark regional political instability".
As proof of ties between the Houthis and the U.S. the daily cited a senior Yemeni official as saying that, a few weeks before the Houthi invasion of Sana'a he had visited the home of the deputy U.S. ambassador in Sana'a. At her home he saw a banner bearing the Houthi slogan 'Death to America, death to Israel'. When he asked her about it she had smiled and said, "this hostility [between the Houthis and the U.S.] is a big joke."
The London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat likewise reported on the meeting between the Houthis and the Western delegation in Kuwait, stating that the Houthis had emphasized they had never harmed American interests and would not do so in the future.