There is an emerging consensus among stakeholders and experts alike that US President Joe Biden’s scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia later this month would provide a golden opportunity to achieve Washington’s stated aim of ending the war in Yemen. The first step for President Biden, however, would be to show resolve in tackling the Saudi King and Crown Prince ~ he needs to pressure them into agreeing to lift the remainder of the blockade of North Yemen and thereby help make the current ceasefire a permanent truce. To his credit, Mr Biden has already ensured that his behind-the-scenes efforts brought the ceasefire into effect in April this year (renewed till August), the first such truce since 2016.
The task before him will not be easy, points out West Asia expert Bruce Riedel, given the ceasefire is most endangered by the continuing siege of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, by Houthi rebels. The Houthis have offered to open back roads into the city but not the main thoroughfares; Mr Biden needs to convince the Saudis to offer incentives to get a deal that would fully open Taiz. So, what could these incentives be? In the interest of achieving an end to the fighting, further easing of the Saudi blockade of the Houthi-controlled North, allowing more fuel supplies into Hodeida (the main port), and an unrestricted supply of food and medicine are essential.
The truce has allowed Sana’a airport to begin commercial flights to Amman and Cairo; President Biden needs to press the Saudis to facilitate more flights in and out of the Yemeni capital, especially for those in need of medical help given the country’s healthcare infrastructure has been destroyed by years of war. It ought also to be kept in mind that Yemen used to acquire much of its food grain from Russia and Ukraine and grain prices have spiked by as much as 35-40 per cent making a permanent end to the fighting imperative to stave off a humanitarian crisis. President Biden would also have to apply pressure on the Saudis and their allies in the region to withdraw their troops from South Yemen.
Control of the territories held by Saudi and Emirati troops, say experts, will need to be transferred to the new provisional authority in Yemen created in April to lay the foundation for a lasting truce. While all stakeholders are reconciled to the fact that Yemen is unlikely to be reunited anytime soon, this measure would at least signal intent ~ that it is not acceptable for the country’s territorial integrity to be violated by foreign occupying forces. Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council ~ all of whom save Oman backed the Saudi intervention in Yemen in 2015 ~ are also expected to meet the American President on his visit to Saudi Arabia. He should impress upon them that the USA would back regional solutions to regional problems; and that they could start with committing funds to the reconstruction of Yemen’s infrastructure, devastated by years of brutal conflict.