.
T

he conflict in Yemen has reached a crossroads. Recent shifts in political dynamics—not limited to the recent transformation of U.S. foreign policy—are producing the conditions necessary for the potential implementation of a ceasefire and subsequent peace negotiations in the war-torn country. At the same time, current violence and fragmentation are at some of the highest levels witnessed across the six-year war, culminating in violence around Marib today. Ultimately, Yemen’s crossroad runs through Marib as a moment of opportunity for constructive regional diplomacy that subsequently supports a Yemeni-led and inclusive peace process.

Fortunately, a degree of positive engagement appears to be a new norm thus far with the advent of the Biden administration. The new U.S. President is signaling that Yemen will constitute one of his major foreign policy focuses, best reflected by the immediate undoing of a slew of Trump administration decisions. This includes a reversal of the Houthi Movement’s (Ansar Allah) foreign terrorist designation, freezing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the subsequent end of offensive support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen.

These decisions come at a critical juncture for the people of Yemen. Today, 80 percent of Yemen’s population needs humanitarian assistance and 39 of 41 zones across its 21 governorates fall under serious or critical acute malnutrition, as outlined by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). Diseases such as cholera and COVID-19 are ravaging a country with infrastructure and public health systems destroyed by years of war and mismanagement. Much of this suffering within Yemen is manmade—caused in part by the Saudi coalition’s air campaign and blockade of the country, as well as indiscriminate mining and shelling by Houthi and other armed actors—and encompasses sweeping human rights violations by all actors involved in the hostilities.

The culmination of these events, from new U.S. policy stances to an increasingly dire humanitarian situation, has boiled over in Marib Governorate since last October. Today, Marib is the physical embodiment of the crossroads that Yemen is experiencing, with Houthi, pro-government, and Saudi forces engaging in fierce combat amongst an internally displaced person (IDP) population of over 800,000 people. The city is the last northern stronghold for the internationally recognized Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and hosts the Safer production facilities, where most of the country’s oil reserves and major fuel processing plants exist. Those who control the governorate control a large chunk of Yemen’s export profits and fuel capabilities—something each faction understands as analogous to controlling Yemen.

U.S. officials also understand the importance of the governorate to wider peace negotiations in Yemen and have called for the Houthis to cease their offensive in support of a diplomatic resolution. U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price highlighted U.S. concerns in an official statement on February 16, expressing that “The Houthis’ assault on Marib is the action of a group not committed to peace or to ending the war afflicting the people of Yemen.” The statement concluded with a clear U.S. stance on the issue: “There is no military solution.”

Regardless of the powerful statement, rhetoric alone will not stop the Houthi offensive into Marib, just as it is highly likely that the pro-government defense of the governorate appears unlikely to hold in the long-term. The Houthis know that control of Marib opens opportunities for additional offensives into other governorates like Shabwah or Hodeidah, which would almost certainly mark the end for the Hadi government. Most importantly, Houthi control of Marib likely coincides with worsened negotiation prospects as the Houthis will view their position as advantageous and that negotiations are not in their interest. This is exactly why the U.S. has publicly condemned the fighting.

Given this reality, newly appointed U.S. Special Envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking and his team are already engaging in diplomatic efforts to bring Saudi and Houthi representatives to the negotiating table. There is an opportunity in this respect for Saudi concessions on issues like the coalition air campaign—a major sticking point for any Houthi agreement to a ceasefire—especially considering Saudi interest in quietly backing away with as much of its reputation as possible intact.

A successful ceasefire can emerge if Washington can convince Riyadh, and subsequently, the Hadi government that minor and temporary concessions based conditionally on Houthi actions in Marib and elsewhere are a small price to pay relative to the risks associated with the loss of the governorate and northern Yemen. As the International Crisis Group correctly identifies, minor concessions such as a lift of some restrictions on Hodeida port and the resumption of some commercial flights to Sanaa airport may be realistic for the Saudis and Hadi, as well as acceptable to the Houthis. Of similar importance, it could also support the free flow of more humanitarian aid and goods into the country.

Such a deal will prove critical to follow-on talks that subsequently allow Saudi Arabia to remove itself from the conflict. This will allow the United States to support regional diplomatic efforts through Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, such as Oman due to its neutrality across the conflict, that hopefully bring the UAE and Iran to cease support for their proxies in the conflict—the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and Houthis, respectively. These efforts should fall under the overarching policy priority of removing direct military support by regional powerhouses for Yemeni armed groups, which will be quite difficult but is critical to any future peace talks through United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.

Regardless of the difficult road ahead, a sustainable Yemeni peace, elusive due to decades of hostilities between political, ethnic, and religious groups in the country, can only be attained through an inclusive process by and for all the factions within Yemen. Without cooperation between all states involved either directly or indirectly, the conflict will continue to be fueled by outside actors with geopolitical interests that only harm Yemen. Hopefully, the crossroads at Marib operates as a point of reflection that produces a shift in this direction.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois is a Contributor for the Diplomatic Courier and freelance writer covering MENA diplomacy, peace, and conflict topics at the intersection of global governance. He holds an MA in International Affairs from American University’s School of International Service.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

Yemeni Peace Stands at a Crossroads

March 10, 2021

T

he conflict in Yemen has reached a crossroads. Recent shifts in political dynamics—not limited to the recent transformation of U.S. foreign policy—are producing the conditions necessary for the potential implementation of a ceasefire and subsequent peace negotiations in the war-torn country. At the same time, current violence and fragmentation are at some of the highest levels witnessed across the six-year war, culminating in violence around Marib today. Ultimately, Yemen’s crossroad runs through Marib as a moment of opportunity for constructive regional diplomacy that subsequently supports a Yemeni-led and inclusive peace process.

Fortunately, a degree of positive engagement appears to be a new norm thus far with the advent of the Biden administration. The new U.S. President is signaling that Yemen will constitute one of his major foreign policy focuses, best reflected by the immediate undoing of a slew of Trump administration decisions. This includes a reversal of the Houthi Movement’s (Ansar Allah) foreign terrorist designation, freezing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the subsequent end of offensive support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen.

These decisions come at a critical juncture for the people of Yemen. Today, 80 percent of Yemen’s population needs humanitarian assistance and 39 of 41 zones across its 21 governorates fall under serious or critical acute malnutrition, as outlined by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). Diseases such as cholera and COVID-19 are ravaging a country with infrastructure and public health systems destroyed by years of war and mismanagement. Much of this suffering within Yemen is manmade—caused in part by the Saudi coalition’s air campaign and blockade of the country, as well as indiscriminate mining and shelling by Houthi and other armed actors—and encompasses sweeping human rights violations by all actors involved in the hostilities.

The culmination of these events, from new U.S. policy stances to an increasingly dire humanitarian situation, has boiled over in Marib Governorate since last October. Today, Marib is the physical embodiment of the crossroads that Yemen is experiencing, with Houthi, pro-government, and Saudi forces engaging in fierce combat amongst an internally displaced person (IDP) population of over 800,000 people. The city is the last northern stronghold for the internationally recognized Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and hosts the Safer production facilities, where most of the country’s oil reserves and major fuel processing plants exist. Those who control the governorate control a large chunk of Yemen’s export profits and fuel capabilities—something each faction understands as analogous to controlling Yemen.

U.S. officials also understand the importance of the governorate to wider peace negotiations in Yemen and have called for the Houthis to cease their offensive in support of a diplomatic resolution. U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price highlighted U.S. concerns in an official statement on February 16, expressing that “The Houthis’ assault on Marib is the action of a group not committed to peace or to ending the war afflicting the people of Yemen.” The statement concluded with a clear U.S. stance on the issue: “There is no military solution.”

Regardless of the powerful statement, rhetoric alone will not stop the Houthi offensive into Marib, just as it is highly likely that the pro-government defense of the governorate appears unlikely to hold in the long-term. The Houthis know that control of Marib opens opportunities for additional offensives into other governorates like Shabwah or Hodeidah, which would almost certainly mark the end for the Hadi government. Most importantly, Houthi control of Marib likely coincides with worsened negotiation prospects as the Houthis will view their position as advantageous and that negotiations are not in their interest. This is exactly why the U.S. has publicly condemned the fighting.

Given this reality, newly appointed U.S. Special Envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking and his team are already engaging in diplomatic efforts to bring Saudi and Houthi representatives to the negotiating table. There is an opportunity in this respect for Saudi concessions on issues like the coalition air campaign—a major sticking point for any Houthi agreement to a ceasefire—especially considering Saudi interest in quietly backing away with as much of its reputation as possible intact.

A successful ceasefire can emerge if Washington can convince Riyadh, and subsequently, the Hadi government that minor and temporary concessions based conditionally on Houthi actions in Marib and elsewhere are a small price to pay relative to the risks associated with the loss of the governorate and northern Yemen. As the International Crisis Group correctly identifies, minor concessions such as a lift of some restrictions on Hodeida port and the resumption of some commercial flights to Sanaa airport may be realistic for the Saudis and Hadi, as well as acceptable to the Houthis. Of similar importance, it could also support the free flow of more humanitarian aid and goods into the country.

Such a deal will prove critical to follow-on talks that subsequently allow Saudi Arabia to remove itself from the conflict. This will allow the United States to support regional diplomatic efforts through Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, such as Oman due to its neutrality across the conflict, that hopefully bring the UAE and Iran to cease support for their proxies in the conflict—the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and Houthis, respectively. These efforts should fall under the overarching policy priority of removing direct military support by regional powerhouses for Yemeni armed groups, which will be quite difficult but is critical to any future peace talks through United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.

Regardless of the difficult road ahead, a sustainable Yemeni peace, elusive due to decades of hostilities between political, ethnic, and religious groups in the country, can only be attained through an inclusive process by and for all the factions within Yemen. Without cooperation between all states involved either directly or indirectly, the conflict will continue to be fueled by outside actors with geopolitical interests that only harm Yemen. Hopefully, the crossroads at Marib operates as a point of reflection that produces a shift in this direction.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois is a Contributor for the Diplomatic Courier and freelance writer covering MENA diplomacy, peace, and conflict topics at the intersection of global governance. He holds an MA in International Affairs from American University’s School of International Service.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.