United States Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday he had agreed in talks with Gulf Arab states and the United Nations in Saudi Arabia on a plan to restart Yemen peace talks with a goal of forming a unity government.
UN-sponsored negotiations to end 18 months of fighting in the country on Saudi Arabia's southern border collapsed this month and conflict against the Houthi rebels there resumed.
Speaking at a press conference with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir in the Saudi city of Jeddah, Kerry said the conflict in which the kingdom has launched repeated air strikes in favour of the exiled government had gone on too long and needed to end.
Kerry said the Houthis must cease shelling across the border with Saudi Arabia, pull back from the territories which they took control of two years ago, cede their weapons and enter into a unity government with their domestic foes.
Yemen's internationally recognised government, based in Saudi Arabia, has made similar demands but insisted that the Houthis fulfil all those measures before any new government was formed. However, Kerry suggested they could move ahead in parallel.
"We agreed on a renewed approach to negotiations with both a security and political track simultaneously working in order to provide a comprehensive settlement," Kerry said.
"The final agreement ... would include in the first phase a swift formation of a new national unity government, the withdrawal of forces from Sanaa and other areas and the transfer of all heavy weapons including ballistic missiles, from the Houthis and forces aligned to them to a third party."
The reference to handing weapons to a third party also appeared to be a departure from the government demands.
"This leaves nothing for future speculation," Kerry said. "This has a clarity to it about how confidence can be built, what the end game looks like, and how the parties get there."
Jubeir said Saudi Arabia and the United States had agreed a way forward for Yemen and said the UN envoy to Yemen would take it up with the parties.
"We managed to come out with a vision related to a roadmap for Yemen, which the UN envoy had discussed with us so there will be clarity on the final settlement which the UN envoy will discuss with the Yemeni parties," Jubeir told the news conference.
Saudi Arabia, a key US ally, has come under stiff criticism from rights groups for air strikes that have repeatedly killed civilians in Yemen.
The Yemen war has killed more than 6,500 people and displaced some 3 million.
The United Nations human rights office said in a report on Thursday that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60 percent of the 3,799 civilians killed in the war.
During his 24-hour visit to Saudi Arabia, Kerry met representatives of the Gulf Arab countries who mostly back the kingdom's war effort.
His talks with Saudi leaders and other Gulf Arab states were also due to cover possible US military cooperation with Russia in Syria, a senior US official said.