A Saudi initiative to stop Yemen war puts the onus for peace on Houthis

The new Saudi step could have a chance if it leads major world powers and the United Nations to pressure the Houthis into making real concessions, experts say.
Tuesday 23/03/2021
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan speaks during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AFP)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan speaks during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AFP)

ADEN--Saudi Arabia announced a unilateral initiative to resolve the Yemen crisis, at a press conference held by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Monday.

The Iran-backed Houthis were quick to reject the move in statements made by their spokesman, Muhammad Abdul Salam.

The new Saudi step could have a chance if it leads major world powers and the United Nations to pressure the Houthis into making real concessions for the sake of peace, experts say.

The initiative was spelt out by Prince Faisal in the presence of the official spokesman for the Saudi-led Arab Coalition, Turki Al-Maliki and the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Muhammad Al Jaber.

The foreign minister insisted that the proposals will not come into effect before the Houthis’ go along with them. The Iran-backed militias need to accept a comprehensive ceasefire under the supervision of the United Nations, and to deposit tax and custom receipts for ships and oil derivatives entering the port of Hodeidah in the joint account at the Central Bank of Yemen in line with the Stockholm Agreement about Hodeidah. The proferred Saudi deal also includes the re-opening of Sana’a International Airport to a number of regional and international direct flights.

According to the Saudi document, agreement on these measures will be followed by the start of talks with the Yemeni rebels under the auspices of the United Nations seeking a political solution based on UN Security Council Resolution 2216, the Gulf initiative and the outcomes of the comprehensive Yemeni national dialogue.

The Saudi move came after consultations with the Biden administration and the United Nations, in the wake of the Houthis’ rejection of the US own initiative which was delivered to the Houthi negotiating team in Muscat by America’s Yemen ambassador Timothy Lenderking

Saudi diplomatic sources described the US proposals as identical to the plan put forward by the UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths

The sources told The Arab Weekly, “The Saudi initiative, which is in line with the American and UN plans, is an extension of international efforts to press for an end to the war in Yemen”

They pointed out that the Saudi position included “new initiatives regarding the main points of disagreement related to the port of Hodeidah, Sana’a airport and the ceasefire, which are the points that the Houthis have been raising to block UN and US initiatives. The Saudi positions are more flexible than past stances, hence putting the Houthis in a tight corner as they deprive them of the excuses they used to reject previous initiatives”.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 22, 2021. (REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 22, 2021. (REUTERS)

However, the Saudis reserved the right to protect their territory, indicating the likely continuation of the war if the Houthis reject the new deal.

The Saudi move came one day after the Arab coalition launched an air strike on an assembly line for drones in Sana’a, demonstrating that after six years of war the coalition is still able to deal painful military blows to the Houthis.

The Yemeni ministry of foreign affairs welcomed, Monday the Saudi initiative which, it pointed out, is in conformity the position of the Yemeni government in calling for a peaceful settlement that would alleviate the human suffering of the Yemeni people

The Yemeni foreign ministry put out a statement regretting that, “The Houthi militias met all previous initiatives with intransigence and procrastination and worked to prolong and deepen the humanitarian crisis ”

In an early indication of the Houthis’ rejection of the Saudi initiative, Houthi spokesman Muhammad Abdul Salam said in a tweet,“ Any positions or initiatives that do take notice of the fact that Yemen has been subjected to aggression and a blockade for six years and does not separate the humanitarian side from any bargaining and fails to lift the military or political blockade, is not serious nor new.”

The Arab Weekly had previously reported that the Houthis had begun, during the past few days, to lay down a list of new demands, after receiving positive responses to their initial demands. Yemeni political sources expect the rebels to start sending conflicting signals to avoid giving a definitive answer to the Saudi offer.

The spokesman for the Houthi militias hinted Monday at the introduction of new conditions, as he tweeted, “At the threshold of the seventh year, we remind the countries of aggression that they must end their aggression in a comprehensive manner and lift the siege completely, and the need to separate what is a humanitarian right such as the re-opening of Sana’a airport and the port of Hodeidah in a way that is not subject to political and military blackmail”

Analysts believe that in the near future there is likely to be increased international pressures on the Houthis, after the Saudi and Yemeni governments announced their approval of the UN initiative supported by Washington and the European Union countries

The Saudi initiative to stop the war coincided with the arrival of the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen, David Gressley, in Marib, which for months has been subjected to violent Houthi attacks aimed at taking control of the city.

The United States welcomed Monday the commitment of Saudi Arabia and the internationally recognised government of Yemen to the new ceasefire plan.

All parties to the Yemen conflict should “commit seriously” to an immediate ceasefire and engage in negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told a news briefing.