SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s Houthi militia leader said on Sunday the group was engaged in indirect talks with neighbor Saudi Arabia, Yemeni state news agency Saba reported.
It is the first known dialogue between the Shi‘ite Muslim group and the neighboring Sunni regional powerhouse since the Houthis took over much of Yemen last year.
Saudi Arabia, impoverished Yemen’s main benefactor, suspended its financial aid soon after their takeover and has accused Shi‘ite majority Iran of backing the group as part of a possible region-wide power grab.
The Houthis say their rise is a revolution against corruption and misrule, but a civil aviation deal inked with Tehran last month and a series of military drills by the group on the Saudi border last week have increased tensions.
“Our contacts with Saudi Arabia have not stopped and indirect contacts took place during the last two days,” Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi was quoted as saying.
“We welcome any relations with our Arab and Islamic neighbors on the basis of respect for the other and non-interference in its affairs,” he added.
Houthi militiamen invaded the Yemeni capital Sanaa in September and dissolved parliament last month in a move Gulf countries denounced as a coup.
Gulf countries back Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to the southern port city of Aden from house arrest last month, opening up a power struggle between him and the Houthis which threatens to descend into civil war.
Speaking about Iran, al-Houthi said he was open to its aid.
“We are looking for a balanced relationship with everyone in our Arab and regional neighborhood who wants to give any unconditional aid to Yemen. The door is open to all and without any preconditions,” he said.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Alison Williams