UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt visits Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday to press for an end to the war in Yemen and to call on Saudi leaders to cooperate with an investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The visit comes at a time when Riyadh, already under scrutiny for civilian deaths in Yemen air raids, is facing global criticism and potential sanctions over the murder of Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate on October 2.
The United Kingdom has called for a “credible” investigation into Khashoggi’s killing and has pushed for new action at the UN Security Council to try to end hostilities in Yemen and find a political solution to the war there.
“The human cost of war in Yemen is incalculable: With millions displaced, famine and disease rife, and years of bloodshed, the only solution is now a political decision to set aside arms and pursue peace,” Hunt said in a statement.
“So today I am travelling to the Gulf to demand that all sides commit to this process.”
Hunt’s comments come as Saudi-Emirati backed forces intensified fighting against the Houthi rebels for control of the strategic port city of Hodeidah.
Bessma Momani, a professor at Canada’s University of Waterloo, noted that 80 percent of all food and medicine comes through the key port and the fighting threatens to cut off those much-needed supplies.
“What we’re seeing from the Saudis and Emiratis is to really recapture Hodeidah before potential peace talks that are scheduled for the end of the year. That’s the strategy overall, but of course it comes at an enormous cost to civilians,” Momani told Al Jazeera.
The UK’s foreign ministry said Hunt would meet Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Yemeni Vice President Ali Mohsen and Foreign Minister Khaled Al Yamani.
Hunt, the first British minister to visit Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s murder, will also call on the Saudi authorities to do more to deliver justice and accountability for his family.
“The international community remain united in horror and outrage at the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi one month ago. It is clearly unacceptable that the full circumstances behind his murder still remain unclear,” he said.
“We encourage the Saudi authorities to cooperate fully with the Turkish investigation into his death so that we deliver justice for his family and the watching world.”
Momani said the killing has put governments that supply weapons to the Saudis – including the United States and the UK – in a position where they may be forced to halt arms transfers.
“The death of Jamal Khashoggi has definitely increased international awareness on Saudi foreign policy,” she said.