TIME Yemen

Iran Calls Saudi Airstrikes in Yemen ‘Dangerous Step’

Yemeni Huthi fighters stand at the site of a Saudi air strike against rebels near Sanaa Airport on March 26, 2015.
Mohammed Huwais—AFP/Getty Images Yemeni Huthi fighters stand at the site of a Saudi air strike against rebels near Sanaa Airport on March 26, 2015.

The U.S. is coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes – although many other regional players are involved

SANAA, Yemen — Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes Thursday targeting military installations in Yemen held by Shiite rebels who were taking over a key port city in the country’s south and had driven the embattled president to flee by sea, security officials said. Some of the strikes hit positions in the country’s capital, Sanaa.

The airstrikes, which had the support of nine other countries, drew a strong reaction from Iran which called the operation an “invasion” and a “dangerous step” that will worsen the crisis in the country.

The back-and-forth between the regional heavyweights was threatening to turn impoverished Yemen into a proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya News reported that the kingdom had deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units.

The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, were calling on their supporters to protest in the streets of Sanaa on Thursday afternoon, Yemen’s Houthi-controlled state news agency SABA reported.

On Wednesday President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close U.S. ally, fled Yemen by sea as the rebels started taking over the southern port city of Aden where he had taken refuge.

Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir announced the military operation in a news conference in Washington. He said his government had consulted closely with the U.S. and other allies but that the U.S. military was not involved in the operations.

The White House said in a statement late Wednesday that the U.S. was coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes.

Other regional players were involved in the Saudi operation: The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, saying they would answer a request from Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.

Egypt also announced political and military support. “There is coordination ongoing now with Saudi Arabia and the brotherly gulf countries about preparations to participate with an Egyptian air and naval forces and ground troops if necessary,” it said in a statement carried by the state news agency.

Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan were also joining the operation, the Saudi Press Agency reported Thursday.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Houthis are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.

Security officials in Yemen said the Saudi airstrikes targeted a camp for U.S.-trained special forces, which is controlled by generals loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The officials said the targets included the missile base in Sanaa that was controlled by the Houthis earlier this year. One of the Yemeni security officials said the strikes also targeted the fuel depot at the base.

The Houthis said in a statement to reporters that Saudi jets hit the military base, known as al-Duleimi, and that they responded with anti-aircraft missiles.

Riad Yassin, Yemen’s foreign minister, told Saudi’s Al-Hadath TV that the airstrikes were welcomed.

“I hope the Houthis listen to the sound of reason. With what is happening, they forced us into this,” he said.

The crumbling of Hadi’s government is a blow to Washington’s counterterrorism strategy against al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, considered to be the most powerful in the terrorist network. Over the weekend, about 100 U.S. military advisers withdrew from the al-Annad air base where they had been leading a drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

Yemen now faces fragmentation, with Houthis controlling much of the north, including the capital of Sanaa, and several southern provinces. In recent days, they took the third-largest city, Taiz, as well as much of the province of Lahj, both just to the north of Aden.

The Houthis are backed by Saleh, the autocrat who ruled Yemen for three decades until he was removed amid a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Some of the best-equipped and trained military and security units remained loyal to Saleh and they have helped the Houthis in their rapid advance.

Hadi left Sanaa for Aden earlier this month after escaping house arrest under the Houthis, who overran the capital six months ago. In Aden, he had sought to make a last stand, claiming it as the temporary seat of what remained of his government, backed by allied militias and loyal army units.

With Houthis and Saleh forces closing in on multiple fronts, Hadi and his aides left Aden Wednesday on two boats in the Gulf of Aden, security and port officials told The Associated Press. The officials would not specify his destination.

TIME Iran

U.S. Nuclear Talks With Iran Enter Critical Round Ahead of Deadline

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wait with others ahead of a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne on March 26, 2015 during negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program.
Brendan Smialowski—Reuters U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wait with others ahead of a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne on March 26, 2015 during negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program.

U.S. officials say the March 31 deadline is still achievable

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran entered a critical phase on Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meeting his Iranian counterpart less than a week away from an end-of-month deadline to secure the outline of a deal.

With the clock ticking, Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and their teams huddled Thursday in the Swiss resort town of Lausanne on Lake Geneva trying to overcome still significant gaps after nearly two years of negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. The top diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are expected to join the talks if the U.S. and Iran are close to an agreement.

U.S. officials say the March 31 deadline is achievable but remains uncertain. En route to Switzerland with Kerry on Wednesday, one official said the American side “can see a path forward to get to agreement” by the end of March as the last round of talks produced more progress than many previous rounds. The official was not authorized to discuss the talks by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The pressure is high. The seven nations have set themselves a March 31 deadline for the outline of a final accord they hope to seal by the end of June. Both President Barack Obama and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have spoken against what would be a third extension of the talks.

And, looming over this round of talks are the crises in Yemen, where U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia, have launched air strikes against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels that toppled the government, and Iraq, where the U.S. is now providing air support to the Iraqi government’s Iranian-backed offensive to retake the city of Tikrit from Islamic State group militants.

At the opening session of Thursday’s talks neither Kerry nor Zarif responded to reporters’ questions about whether the situation in Yemen would be discussed.

Opponents of a nuclear deal, among them wary American allies in the Middle East and hardliners in Iran and in Congress, stand ready to complicate the process if negotiators cannot reach a breakthrough in the next six days. American lawmakers have threatened new sanctions on Iran as well as the establishment of a process which would allow them to vote down any final accord.

The United States and its partners are trying to get Iran to cut the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, material that can be used in warheads, and agree to other restrictions on what the Islamic Republic insists is a peaceful nuclear program.

Speaking Wednesday morning to U.S. ambassadors in Washington, Kerry assailed opponents of a deal.

“What happens if, as our critics propose, we just walk away from a plan that the rest of the world were to deem to be reasonable?” Kerry asked. “Well, the talks would collapse. Iran would have the ability to go right back spinning its centrifuges and enriching to the degree they want… And the sanctions will not hold.”

Kerry said the whole point of years of U.S. sanctions was to get Iran to agree to limits on its nuclear program. He said it was the Obama administration’s job to “provide an agreement that is as good as we said it will be; that will get the job done; that shuts off the four pathways to a nuclear weapon.”

The alternative to diplomacy could mean Iran is left to “just expand its program full-speed ahead,” Kerry said. “You know we can’t accept that. So where does that take you? Anybody standing up in opposition to this has an obligation to stand up and put a viable, realistic alternative on the table. And I have yet to see anybody do that.”

TIME Burma

Seventy Burmese Students, Activists Charged for Taking Part in ‘Illegal’ Rally

Burmese activist on March 21, 2015, at the bank of Innya Lake in Yangon, Burma.
Khin Maung Win—AP Burmese activist on March 21, 2015, at the bank of Innya Lake in Rangoon, Burma

They face up to six years in prison for protesting an education bill they saw as regressive

Dozens of protesting Burmese activists and students are facing jail time on charges of insulting civil servants and refusing to disperse at an illicit demonstration.

The 70 protesters face up to six years in jail after violence broke out during a march from Mandalay to Rangoon calling for educational reforms, reports the BBC.

Although it was technically illegal, authorities had let the rally pass until they reached the town of Letpadan. There, incensed by the presence of a police line, the group attempted to break through.

Scores of students were injured in the ensuing confrontation. In one photo, four police prepare to strike an unarmed, prone man with their batons.

The quasi-civilian government of Burma, officially now known as Myanmar, insists it is legitimately prosecuting participants in the mid-March protests. However, critics see the case as proof of the Southeast Asian nation’s lingering authoritarianism despite the much-lauded transition from junta rule.

“People’s expectations are high because we’re a country in transition, but you can’t fulfill everything in one term,” said Burmese President Thein Sein told the BBC.

More charges relating to the protests are expected in coming weeks.

[BBC]

TIME Chile

Heavy Rains Wreak Havoc in Northern Chile, One of the Driest Places on Earth

Residents watch the rising flood waters of the Copiapo River, in Copiapo, Chile, March 25, 2015
Aton Chile—AP Residents watch the rising flood waters of the Copiapo River, in Copiapo, Chile, March 25, 2015

Officials order evacuation ahead of further storms

Heavy rains in the Andes sent flash floods through Chile’s Atacama desert Tuesday evening, leaving thousands without power or running water. The area is normally one of the driest in the world.

Overwhelmed by runoff, the river that runs through Copiapo, Atacama’s capital city, overflowed its banks with more rain predicted over the next 12 hours.

Authorities, fearful of mudslides, urged locals to seek safety elsewhere. Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo advised “anyone in an at-risk zone in the Atacama region” to evacuate, the BBC reports.

Northern coastal towns were hit especially hard. The government described the coastal town of Chañaral as in a “critical” state, while the Antofagasta and Coquimbo regions were affected seriously enough to warrant health alerts.

Military units were deployed in Copiapo to lend assistance, and President Michelle Bachelet rearranged her schedule in order to fly to the besieged city.

Along with causing widespread flooding, the rainstorms also washed out roads and disrupted communications. Local officials say 38,000 residents are without power and 48,000 are without potable water.

TIME Aviation

Airbus Safety Record in Spotlight After Germanwings Crash

Tuesday's crash is the latest in a string of incidents involving Airbus

Following the loss of Germanwings Flight 4U9525 in the French Alps on Tuesday, which claimed the lives of all 150 passengers and crew, attention has been drawn to the safety record of the plane’s manufacturer, Airbus.

The French aviation company manufactured both the A320 plane that crashed and a Lufthansa A321 plane that lost altitude over Spain last November. Experts say there are similarities between the two incidents, reports the Guardian.

Germanwings said the A320 plane started descending one minute after reaching its cruising height. It continued losing altitude for eight minutes but did not send out a Mayday call.

The A321 plane took a sudden plunge after its automated systems misinterpreted data from the plane’s sensors. In this instance, the faulty data activated the aircraft’s alpha-protection system, and when mixed with other technical information, sent the plane into a nosedive. The pilot was able to recover the dive and landed safely.

Later it was found that the aircraft’s sensors had frozen after takeoff, only defrosting when the plane was coming in to land in Munich.

Airbus subsequently issued a safety alert and changed the flight manuals for all of its A300 aircraft.

According to the Guardian, some experts believe pilots have become increasingly dependent on plane-operation systems as they become more sophisticated, leading to difficulties if a fault develops.

In a 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447, involving an Airbus A330 leaving Brazil for Paris, the aircraft’s sensors had frozen and were giving incorrect data. Pilots then misinterpreted the situation and the plane came down over the Atlantic, killing all 288 people on board.

French safety investigators still don’t know what caused the Germanwings plane to suddenly dive but are analyzing the black box recovered from the crash site.

The operator said the downed aircraft was fit to fly after having maintenance work the day before.

Airbus has logged millions of incident-free hours in the air every year and manufactures some of the most popular aircraft used today.

[Guardian]

TIME Vietnam

Scaffolding Collapse Claims 14 Lives at a Vietnamese Port

Vietnam Scaffolding Collapse
Cong Tuong—AP Rescuers work through the rubble trying to find survivors after scaffolding collapsed in an economic zone in Ha Tinh province in central Vietnam on March 25, 2015

The workers were reportedly employed by a sub-contractor of Samsung

At least 14 workers were killed and 30 wounded in Vietnam Wednesday night when scaffolding collapsed at a seaport project in the Vung Ang economic zone of Ha Tinh province.

Provincial People’s Committee Deputy Chairman Dang Quoc Khanh announced on national television that many of the injured had been hospitalized. Authorities were working to uncover two bodies still buried within the debris, Reuters reports.

Phan Tran De, deputy chief of the zone’s managing authority, told local media that thousands of workers were on the construction site and casualty numbers may rise.

The seaport was being built on the grounds of a complex owned by the Formosa Group, a Taiwanese company. The government-owned Thanh Nien newspaper reported that the hurt workers, all of whom were Vietnamese, were sub-contracted from a branch of South Korea’s Samsung Group.

Vung Ang hit the headlines last year when riots erupted targeting Chinese workers.

TIME Aviation

Report Says One Pilot Was Locked Out of the Germanwings Jet Before Crash

Mystery Surrounds The Germanwings Airbus That Crashed In Southern France Killing All On Board
Handout—Getty Images Search-and-rescue teams attend to the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus in the French Alps near Seyne, France, on March 25, 2015

One pilot might have been locked out of the cockpit on Germanwings jetliner

(SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France) — The first half of Germanwings Flight 9525 was chilling in its normalcy. It took off from Barcelona en route to Duesseldorf, climbing up over the Mediterranean and turning over France. The last communication was a routine request to continue on its route.

Minutes later, at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Airbus A320 inexplicably began to descend. Within 10 minutes it had plunged from its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet to just over 6,000 feet and slammed into a remote mountainside.

To find out why, investigators have been analyzing the mangled black box that contains an audio recording from the cockpit. Remi Jouty, the head of France’s accident investigation bureau BEA, said Wednesday that it has yielded sounds and voices, but so far not the “slightest explanation” of why the plane crashed, killing all 150 on board.

A newspaper report, however, suggests the audio contains intriguing information at the least: One of the pilots is heard leaving the cockpit, then banging on the door with increasing urgency in an unsuccessful attempt to get back in.

“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door and there is no answer,” The New York Times quotes an unidentified investigator as saying. “And then he hits the door stronger and no answer. There is never an answer.”

Eventually, the newspaper quotes the investigator as saying: “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”

The investigator, whom the newspaper said could not be identified because the investigation is continuing, said officials don’t know why the pilot left. He also does not speculate on why the other pilot didn’t open the door or make contact with ground control before the crash.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, airlines in the U.S. don’t leave one pilot alone in the cockpit. The standard operating procedure is that if one of the pilots leaves — for example to use the bathroom — a flight attendant takes their spot in the cockpit. It was not immediately clear if European airlines have adopted the same practice.

The names of the pilots have not been released.

French officials gave no details from the recording on Wednesday, insisting the cause of the crash remained a mystery. They said the descent was gradual enough to suggest the plane was under the control of its navigators.

“At this point, there is no explanation,” Jouty said. “One doesn’t imagine that the pilot consciously sends his plane into a mountain.”

Jouty said “sounds and voices” were registered on the digital audio file recovered from the first black box. But he did not divulge the contents, insisting days or weeks will be needed to decipher them.

“There’s work of understanding voices, sounds, alarms, attribution of different voices,” the BEA chief said.

Confusion surrounded the fate of the second black box. French President Francois Hollande said the casing of the flight data recorder had been found in the scattered debris, but was missing the memory card that captures 25 hours’ worth of information on the position and condition of almost every major part in a plane. Jouty refused to confirm the discovery.

French officials said terrorism appeared unlikely and Germany’s top security official said there was no evidence of foul play.

As authorities struggled to unravel the puzzle, Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy converged on the remote accident site to pay their respects to the dead — mostly German and Spanish citizens among at least 17 nationalities.

“This is a true tragedy, and the visit here has shown us that,” Merkel said after she and Hollande overflew the desolate craggy mountainside.

Helicopters ferried in rescue workers and other personnel throughout the day. More than 600 rescue and security workers and aviation investigators were on site, French officials said.

Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann said the airline was in the process of contacting victims’ families. He said the 144 passengers and six crew members included 72 Germans, 35 Spaniards, three Americans and two people each from Australia, Argentina, Iran, Venezuela, and one person each from Britain, the Netherlands, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, Denmark, Belgium and Israel.

The three Americans included a mother and daughter, the U.S. State Department said. Some of the victims may have had dual nationalities; Spain’s government said 51 citizens had died in the crash.

Two babies, two opera singers and 16 German high school students and their teachers returning from an exchange program in Spain were among those who lost their lives.

The principal of Joseph Koenig High School, Ulrich Wessel, called the loss a “tragedy that renders one speechless.”

In Spain, flags flew at half-staff on government buildings and a minute of silence was held in government offices across the country. Parliament canceled its Wednesday session.

Barcelona’s Liceu opera house held two minutes of silence at noon to honor the two German opera singers, Oleg Bryjak and Maria Radner, who were returning home after a weekend performance at the theater.

Germanwings canceled several flights Wednesday because some crews declared themselves unfit to fly after losing colleagues.

___

Ganley reported from Paris. Thomas Adamson, Lori Hinnant and Sylvie Corbet in Paris; Kristen Grieshaber in Haltern, Germany; David Rising and Geir Moulson in Berlin; Alan Clendenning and Jorge Sainz in Madrid; Michael Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and AP Airlines writer Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report.

TIME Yemen

President of Yemen Flees by Sea; Saudis Begin Air Strikes

In this March 24, 2015 photo, tanks seized recently by militiamen loyal to Yemen's President Hadi take positions at the al-Anad air base in Lahej, Yemen.
Wael Qubady—AP In this March 24, 2015 photo, tanks seized recently by militiamen loyal to Yemen's President Hadi take positions at the al-Anad air base in Lahej, Yemen.

Houthi rebels and their allies moved on Aden, captured its airport and put a bounty on the President's head

(SANAA, Yemen) — President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled Yemen by sea Wednesday as Shiite rebels and their allies moved on his last refuge in the south, captured its airport and put a bounty on his head, officials said. Hours later, Saudi Arabia announced it had begun airstrikes against the Houthi rebels.

The departure of the close U.S. ally and the imminent fall of the southern port of Aden pushed Yemen further toward a violent collapse. It also threatened to turn the impoverished but strategic country into another proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.

Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir said his country had begun airstrikes against the rebels. He said his government had consulted closely with the U.S. and other allies but that the U.S. military was not involved in the operations.

The White House said in a statement late Wednesday that the U.S. was coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes.

There were indications that others in the region would follow suit: The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, saying they would answer a request from Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.

In a statement from the state news agency Egypt, too, announced political and military support. “There is coordination ongoing now with Saudi Arabia and the brotherly gulf countries about preparations to participate with an Egyptian air and naval forces and ground troops if necessary,” the statement said.

Arab leaders are expected to meet in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik this weekend for a pre-planned summit, which is now expected to be dominated by the developments in Yemen. It is not clear if Hadi will be able to attend the summit.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.

The crumbling of Hadi’s government is a blow to Washington’s counterterrorism strategy against al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, considered to be the most powerful in the terrorist network. Over the weekend, about 100 U.S. military advisers withdrew from the al-Annad air base where they had been leading a drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

Yemen now faces fragmentation, with Houthis controlling much of the north, including the capital of Sanaa, and several southern provinces. In recent days, they took the third-largest city, Taiz, as well as much of the province of Lahj, both just to the north of Aden.

In fighting in Lahj, they captured Hadi’s defense minister, Maj. Gen. Mahmoud al-Subaihi, and then swept into the nearby al-Annad base, which the U.S. military had left.

The Houthis are backed by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the autocrat who ruled Yemen for three decades until he was removed amid a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Some of the best-equipped and trained military and security units remained loyal to Saleh and they have helped the Houthis in their rapid advance.

Hadi left Sanaa for Aden earlier this month after escaping house arrest under the Houthis, who overran the capital six months ago. In Aden, he had sought to make a last stand, claiming it as the temporary seat of what remained of his government, backed by allied militias and loyal army units.

Security officials in Yemen said the Saudi airstrikes targeted a camp for U.S.-trained special forces, which is controlled by generals loyal to Saleh. The officials said the targets included the missile base in Sanaa that was controlled by the Houthis earlier this year. One of the Yemeni security officials said the strikes also targeted the fuel depot at the base.

The Houthis said in a statement to reporters that Saudi jets hit the military base, known as al-Duleimi, and that they responded with anti-aircraft missiles.

Saudi-owned Al-Hadath TV aired pictures of the operation. The dark screen flashed with glaring lights and there was what sounded like machine guns or possibly anti-aircraft missiles.

Riad Yassin, Yemen’s Foreign Minister, told Al-Hadath that the airstrikes were welcomed.

“I hope the Houthis listen to the sound of reason. With what is happening, they forced us into this,” he said.

With Houthis and Saleh forces closing in on multiple fronts, Hadi and his aides left Aden after 3:30 p.m. on two boats in the Gulf of Aden, security and port officials told The Associated Press. The officials would not specify his destination.

Saleh said in a speech two weeks ago that Hadi might head for the African country of Djibouti across the gulf, just as leaders of southern Yemen fled.

Officials said Hadi had been preparing for the move since Sunday, when rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi vowed in a fiery speech that his forces will keep advancing south, referring to Hadi as a “puppet” of international powers.

Shortly after Hadi fled his palace in Aden, warplanes targeted presidential forces guarding it. No casualties were reported. By midday, Aden’s airport fell into hands of forces loyal to Saleh based in the city after intense clashes with pro-Hadi militias.

Yemen’s state TV, now controlled by the Houthis, announced a bounty of nearly $100,000 for Hadi’s capture.

The Houthis still face multiple opponents. Sunni tribesmen and local militias are fighting them in many places around Yemen, and the rebels have little support in the south.

Some military units remain loyal to Hadi, although they are severely weakened. Alarmingly, al-Qaida militants have emerged as a powerful force against the rebels, and there are signs of a presence of the even more extremist Islamic State group. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for suicide bombings against the Houthis in Sanaa that killed 137 people.

AQAP is considered the terrorist group most dangerous to the U.S. because it successfully placed three bombs on U.S. bound airlines, although none exploded. U.S. officials acknowledge their efforts against AQAP are seriously hampered, with the U.S. Embassy closed and the last U.S. troops evacuated.

Although the Houthis are avowed enemies of al-Qaida, they can’t project power against the militants the way the Hadi government could with U.S. support. The deeply anti-American rebels have rejected Washington’s overtures, officials say.

Hadi’s exit is a humiliating reversal, coming in large part at the hands of Saleh, the man he replaced in 2012 under a deal that allowed the former leader to remain free.

The atmosphere in Aden was tense, with most schools, government offices, shops and restaurants closed. In the few cafes still open, men watched the news on TV. Looters went through two abandoned army camps, taking weapons and ammunition.

Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a spokesman for the Houthis, told the rebel-controlled Al-Masirah news channel that their forces were not aiming to occupy the south.

TIME

Kerry Lands in Switzerland for Make-or-Break Iran Nuke Talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry waits to address the Global Chief of Missions meeting at the State Department in Washington on March 25, 2015.
Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry waits to address the Global Chief of Missions meeting at the State Department in Washington on March 25, 2015.

Ahead of an end-of-month deadline for the outline of a deal

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Switzerland to resume Iran nuclear talks as negotiations go down to the wire against an end-of-month deadline for the outline of a deal.

With just days until that target is reached, Kerry touched down in Geneva late Wednesday and was driven to the lake resort of Lausanne. En route to Geneva, U.S. officials said the deadline is achievable but remains uncertain amid significant gaps in certain areas.

One official traveling with Kerry to the talks said the American side “can see a path forward to get to agreement” by the end of March. The official said the last round of talks, also in Lausanne, produced more progress than many previous rounds when it ended last weekend. The official was not authorized to discuss the talks by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kerry is hoping to seal a framework deal to roll back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief in make-or-break talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The top diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia would join if the U.S. and Iran are close to an agreement.

The pressure is high. The seven nations have set themselves a March 31 deadline for the outline of a final accord they hope to seal by the end of June. Both President Barack Obama and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have spoken against what would be a third extension of the talks.

And opponents, among them wary American allies in the Middle East and hardliners in Iran and in Congress, stand ready to complicate the process if negotiators cannot reach a breakthrough in the next six days. American lawmakers have threatened new sanctions on Iran as well as the establishment of a process which would allow them to vote down any final accord.

The United States and its partners are trying to get Iran to cut the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, material that can be used in warheads, and agree to other restrictions on what the Islamic Republic insists is a peaceful nuclear program.

Speaking Wednesday morning to U.S. ambassadors, Kerry assailed opponents of a deal.

“What happens if, as our critics propose, we just walk away from a plan that the rest of the world were to deem to be reasonable?” Kerry asked. “Well, the talks would collapse. Iran would have the ability to go right back spinning its centrifuges and enriching to the degree they want… And the sanctions will not hold.”

Kerry said the whole point of years of U.S. sanctions was to get Iran to agree to limits on its nuclear program. He said it was the Obama administration’s job to “provide an agreement that is as good as we said it will be; that will get the job done; that shuts off the four pathways to a nuclear weapon.”

The alternative to diplomacy could mean Iran is left to “just expand its program full-speed ahead,” Kerry said. “You know we can’t accept that. So where does that take you? Anybody standing up in opposition to this has an obligation to stand up and put a viable, realistic alternative on the table. And I have yet to see anybody do that.”

___

Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed from Washington.

TIME Yemen

Saudis Begin Air Strikes Against Houthi Rebels in Yemen

Vowing to do "anything necessary" to protect its neighbor from Iran-backed Shi'ite rebels

(WASHINGTON) — Saudi Arabia began airstrikes Wednesday against Houthi rebel positions in Yemen, vowing that the Sunni kingdom will do “anything necessary” to protect its neighbor from Iran-backed Shiite rebels.

The airstrikes campaign was announced at the Saudi embassy in Washington by Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir in a rare news conference. Offensive military action by Saudi Arabia is also a rarity, although Saudi Arabia is a partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria.

There were indications that regional assistance to Yemen was extending beyond Saudi Arabia.

In a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain said they would answer a request from Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.

The GCC is expected to meet this weekend in Saudi Arabia and Hadi is expected to attend.

Driven weeks ago from the capital by the Houthis, Hadi abandoned the country, leaving on a boat from the southern port of Aden, Yemeni security officials said. His departure came after rebel airstrikes rained down on his troops, a sign that rebels held air superiority and that Hadi’s calls for an international no-fly zone had been disregarded. On the ground, the rebels were advancing toward his position.

Al-Jubeir said the Saudi air operations began at 7 p.m. EDT, and noted he “had never seen militias with air power,” a reference to Iranian deliveries of weaponry to the Houthis.

Loud, house-shaking explosions could be heard in the Yemen capital of Sanaa and fire and smoke could be seen in the night sky, according to an Associated Press correspondent whose home is near the military airbase in the capital.

Al-Jubeir said the Houthis “have always chosen the path of violence.” He declined to say whether the Saudi campaign involved U.S. intelligence assistance.

He sadid the Saudis “will do anything necessary” to protect the people of Yemen and “the legitimate government of Yemen.”

Hadi’s departure illustrated how one of the most important American counterterrorism efforts has disintegrated, leaving the country wide open for what could be a deeply destabilizing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudi announcement only reinforced that notion.

Three years ago, American officials hailed Hadi’s ascension to power in a U.S.-brokered deal that ended the longtime rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh during the political upheaval of the Arab Spring. Just a few months ago, President Barack Obama was still calling Yemen a counterterrorism success story, even as the CIA warned that Iranian-backed Houthi rebels were growing restive in the north of the country.

Now, U.S. officials acknowledge their efforts against Yemen’s dangerous al-Qaida affiliate are seriously hampered, with the American embassy closed and the last U.S. troops evacuated from the country over the weekend. Although the Houthis have seized control of much of the country and are avowed enemies of al-Qaida, they can’t project power against the militants the way the Hadi government could with American support, officials say. Deeply anti-American, the Houthis have rejected U.S. overtures, officials say.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is considered the terror group most dangerous to the U.S. because it successfully placed three bombs on U.S.-bound airlines, although none exploded. The chaos in Yemen will give the group breathing space, American officials acknowledge.

Beyond terrorism, the latest developments in Yemen have worrisome implications for a Middle East already wracked by Sunni-Shia conflict, experts say. Before the airstrikes began, Saudi Arabia bolstered its troop presence along its border with Yemen.

“This is all about Sunni vs. Shia, Saudi vs. Iran,” said Michael Lewis, professor at Ohio Northern University College of Law and a former Navy fighter pilot who watches Yemen closely. The U.S., he said, “can’t be a disinterested observer. Nobody’s going to buy that. What we needed to do was pick a side.”

But the U.S. had made no move to protect the Hadi government as the Houthis advanced, and American officials gave no indication Wednesday that their stance of neutrality had changed. Asked whether the U.S. military had considered trying to rescue Hadi, a senior American official who declined to be quoted answered: “The tinderbox in Yemen is most complicated because of the geopolitics at stake. The U.S., Saudis, Iranians, Houthis, Yemenis, AQAP, ISIL and AQ have equities in the situation and factor into any decision the U.S. makes or doesn’t make.”

As late as Monday, officials insisted the U.S. was still working with Hadi’s government, despite the fact that the president had been forced out of the capital and the parliament dissolved.

“There continues to be ongoing security cooperation between the United States and the national security infrastructure of the Hadi government,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

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Associated Press writers Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, Sarah el-Deeb in Cairo and Lolita C. Baldor and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

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