The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, on Sunday denied media reports that the US has decided to limit military support, including a planned arms sale, to the kingdom.
US officials have said Washington decided to curb backing for Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen, including halting the supply of some precision-guided munitions, because of concerns over widespread civilian casualties.
Yemen’s 20-month-old war has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered humanitarian crises, including chronic food shortages, in the poorest country in the Arabian peninsula.
Jubeir told a joint news conference with the visiting US secretary of state, John Kerry: “This news that has been leaked contradicts reality. The reality is that converting regular bombs to smart bombs would be welcome because smart bombs are more accurate.”
In answer to a question on reported delays of US weapons supplies, he said: “The kingdom has received nothing official from the American government in this regard.”
Kerry appeared to downplay the reports of delays, suggesting procurement was often a slow process and adding he had worked hard to move sales “forward”.
Kerry also met King Salman and others on Sunday, on a visit to the kingdom that will probably be his last as the top US diplomat. Ties between the US and Saudi Arabia have also been strained by the Iran nuclear deal.
The war in Yemen began in September 2014 when Houthi Shia rebels and their allies seized the capital, Sana’a, expelling the government of President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi. A Saudi-led coalition of mostly Gulf Arab nations launched a campaign in March 2015, against the Iran-backed rebels.
The coalition has launched thousands of airstrikes. Saudi Arabia has been subject to cross-border raids and missile attacks.
Extremist groups have flourished in the war-torn state. The local affiliate of the Islamic State group claimed a suicide bombing on Sunday in the southern port city of Aden, in which at least 48 soldiers who were lined up to receive their pay were killed.
“In turbulent times, it’s good to have solid friends,” Kerry said on Sunday. “That’s why the United States’ partnership with Saudi Arabia is rightly so valuable.”
Kerry earlier joined diplomats from Britain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates to speak with Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the United Nations special envoy to Yemen. The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition. Oman has served as an interlocutor with the Houthis.
On Twitter, the British Middle East minister, Tobias Ellwood, said the meeting discussed a political process to end Yemen’s war, which he called “the only way to bring peace”.
Kerry said he hoped to have parties involved “within two weeks” to agree to terms set out by the United Nations. But he and al-Jubeir did not say how that would be accomplished. The UN has proposed sidelining the Saudi-backed president, Hadi, and giving the rebels a share of power, concessions the kingdom strongly opposes.
“You can see from the humanitarian situation, which is dire and deteriorating rapidly, that it is urgent that we try to bring this war to a close,” Kerry said. “But we also need to bring it to a close in a way that protects the security of Saudi Arabia.”
The UN estimates that at least 4,125 civilians have been killed since airstrikes began. Saudi-led airstrikes were responsible for 60% of civilian deaths over a year-long span starting in July 2015, according to a UN report.