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US welcomes Saudi's invitation to Yemen's Houthis for talks

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Friday welcomed Saudi Arabia's invitation to a Houthi-led delegation from Yemen for talks in Riyadh and described it as an "important step towards peace."

THE TAKE

Saudi Arabia invited Yemen's Houthi delegation to Riyadh to continue ceasefire talks. The kingdom wanted to resume its and Oman's efforts to "reach a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen and a sustainable political solution acceptable to all Yemeni parties," Saudi Arabia's state news agency said on Thursday.

The peace initiatives have gained momentum since arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to re-establish ties in a deal brokered by China. A permanent ceasefire in Yemen would mark a milestone in stabilizing the Middle East.

KEY QUOTE

"This important step towards peace expands on a series of engagements between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis," the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

"The talks in Riyadh follow a visit by senior U.S. officials to Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates last week to consult with our regional partners and the Yemeni parties about a viable path toward peace."

CONTEXT

* The trip marked the first official visit by Houthi officials to the kingdom since the war broke out in Yemen in 2014, after the Iran-aligned group ousted a Saudi-backed government in Sanaa.

* The group has been fighting against a Saudi-led military alliance in a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and left 80% of Yemen's population dependent on humanitarian aid.

(This story has been refiled to say Houthis, not Houthi, in the headline)

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler)