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June 23, 2019, 8:17 p.m. EDT

Yemeni rebels strike Saudi airport ahead of U.S.-Saudi talks

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By Associated Press


Associated Press
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at Andrews Air Force Base Sunday before boarding a plane headed to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

One person was killed and seven others were wounded in an attack by Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels on an airport in Saudi Arabia Sunday evening, the Saudi military said, as the U.S. secretary of state was on his way to the country for talks on Iran.

Regional tensions have flared in recent days. The U.S. abruptly called off military strikes against Iran in response to the shooting down of an unmanned American surveillance drone on Thursday.

The Trump administration has combined a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. A new set of U.S. sanctions on Iran are expected to be announced Monday.

The Sunday attack by the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, targeted the Saudi airport in Abha. Saudi Arabia has been at war with the Houthis in Yemen for more than four years.

A Houthi spokesman, Yahia al-Sarie, said earlier Sunday the rebels had launched drones targeting Saudi airports in the southern cities of Abha and Jizan.

Saudi Arabia’s military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki did not say what type of weapon was used in Sunday’s attack, which took place shortly after 9 p.m. local time. The Saudi Press Agency reported that a Syrian resident of Saudi Arabia had been killed, but did not identify the nationalities of those wounded.

It was the second attack in less than two weeks on Abha’s airport. The Houthis launched a cruise missile at the airport on June 12, wounding 26 passengers inside. The Iranian-backed Houthis also claimed responsibility for bomb-laden drone strikes that targeted a key Saudi oil pipeline in recent weeks.

Also Sunday, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was traveling to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for talks on Iran. His meetings in Saudi Arabia will be in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, about 315 miles (505 kilometers) north of where the Saudi airport was struck.

Speaking to reporters before flying out, he said he’ll be talking to the two U.S. allies “about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned” and how to build a global coalition to “push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”

At the same time, Pompeo reiterated that the U.S. was prepared to negotiate with Iran to ease tensions.

“We’re prepared to negotiate with no preconditions. They know precisely how to find us,” he said.

Read: U.S. economic plan for Mideast peace criticized for unrealistic projections, ignoring Israeli occupation of West Bank

Meanwhile, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton was in Jerusalem on Sunday, where he said Iran should not “mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness.” President Donald Trump has said he backed away from planned strikes after learning 150 people would be killed.

Bolton’s tough message seemed to be aimed not only at Tehran, but also at reassuring key U.S. allies that the White House remains committed to maintaining pressure on Iran. Israel, along with Arab countries in the Gulf, considers Iran to be their greatest threat, and Trump’s last-minute about face appears to have raised questions about U.S. willingness to use force against the Islamic Republic.

On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States’ “interventionist military presence” for fanning the flames. He was quoted by the official IRNA news agency.

Bolton, a longtime Iran hawk, emphasized that the U.S. reserved the right to attack at a later point.

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