Pakistan officials arrive in Saudi to assess Yemen mission

AP News
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Posted: Mar 31, 2015 8:19 AM

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Senior Pakistani officials arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to assess whether to take part in Riyadh's coalition battling Shiite rebels in Yemen, as the Pakistani prime minister vowed that any violation of Saudi sovereignty would bring a "strong reaction" from his country.

The delegation includes Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz and some military officers, Pakistani state TV said. Asif told state TV before departing that he had been in contact with the Saudis in recent days. "God willing, we will be standing with our Saudi brothers," he said.

The Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes last week targeting the Iran-supported rebels, known as Houthis, who seized Yemen's capital in September.

Pakistan has voiced support for the mission but is not taking part in the Saudi-led airstrikes. Asif said Monday that Pakistan hadn't yet decided whether to dispatch combat troops. Pakistan already has 292 troops in Saudi Arabia taking part in joint exercises.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office said in a statement Tuesday that his country "considers the security of the holy land of utmost importance," adding that "any violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Saudi Arabia would evoke a strong reaction from Pakistan."

Muslim-majority Pakistan has close ties to Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam's holiest sites, Mecca and Medina. But Pakistanis have debated whether their country can afford to join the conflict in Yemen when it is already at war with its own Islamic militants.