Yemeni warring factions welcome Biden peace push
Yemen’s warring factions declared their readiness to act after US President Joe Biden called for renewed efforts to end their conflict, but experts said Friday that a real solution appears out of reach.
emen’s warring factions declared their readiness to act after US President Joe Biden called for renewed efforts to end their conflict, but experts said Friday that a real solution appears out of reach.
The grinding six-year war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, triggering what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
In his first major foreign policy speech since replacing Donald Trump last month, Biden appointed an envoy to push for peace and said the US would end all support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.
“This war has to end,” Biden said.
“To underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales.”
emen’s internationally recognised government, which is backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, welcomed his remarks and stressed the “importance of supporting diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis”.
It hailed Timothy Lenderking’s appointment as US envoy, describing it as “another important step” taken by the US to “end the war caused by the Iran-backed Huthis”.
The Huthi rebels, who control much of the country, including the capital Sanaa, said they supported the approach of the new US administration.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” Huthi official Hameed Assem told AFP on Friday.
But he also warned that “our missiles will not stop until there is a ceasefire… they are the ones who started the war, and they are the ones who should end it.”
– ‘Historic’ –
Saudi Arabia reacted by reasserting its commitment to a political solution in Yemen.
The kingdom welcomed Biden’s “commitment to cooperate with the kingdom to defend its sovereignty and counter threats against it,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
But like the Yemeni government, it did not address Biden’s decision to end military support to the war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, which has led a military intervention against the Huthis since 2015, has come under repeated missile or drone attacks from the Shiite rebels.
It has accused regional rival Iran of supplying sophisticated weapons to the Huthis, a charge Tehran denies.
Trump — who argued arms sales were creating US defence jobs — viewed the war as a way to hit back at Iran, America’s sworn enemy.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said he would revisit Trump’s last-minute designation of the Huthis as a terrorist group.
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, said Biden’s speech was “historic”.
“We look forward to working with our friends in the US to end conflicts and confront challenges, as we have for over seven decades,” he tweeted.
– ‘Talk to the Iranians’ –
But for Yemenis, talk of a solution is very far from their reality.
“The war won’t end; no one wants it to end. This is just propaganda,” said Huda Ibrahim, a 38-year-old housewife from the port city of Hodeida.
“I’m not optimistic and I don’t believe anything about ending the war. How will it end when clashes don’t stop even for one night,” she told AFP.
In the Huthi-controlled capital Sanaa, resident Ayman al-Shami told AFP he feared little change on the ground.
“We can’t rely on Biden’s statements on stopping the arms sales and the war,” he said.
Analysts have also cast doubt on the likelihood of a breakthrough.
“Portraying the declaration as a full commitment to end the war does not seem to be true,” said Maged al-Madhaji, director of the Sanaa Centre for Strategic Studies.
“The declaration says that the US is committed to its traditional policy in defending Saudi Arabia — meaning it will continue to support Saudi Arabia militarily in the face of attacks from across the border,” he added.
Annelle Sheline, Middle East research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said it remained to be seen what “offensive action” means in practice.
“Ending America’s support for the war and ending the war are two different things,” Sheline said.
“To truly end the war, we need diplomacy, and for that, we need to be able to talk to the Iranians again,” she added.