The Fate of the Riyadh Agreement in Light of Recent Development


Wed, 21-07-2021 05:53 PM, Aden

Analytics (South24) 

The parties of the Yemeni crisis concerned with completing the implementation of the provisions of the Riyadh Agreement were forced to stop continuing talks on it due to the recent military tensions in the governorates of Shabwa and Abyan, and because of what the STC says as a major party in the talks; that there is a deliberate action by parties in the Hadi government to thwart the efforts of the Saudis.

So far, things seem unclear in terms of the details discussed during the last period; Except for some statements here and there about arrangements for the return of the parity government to the Southern capital, Aden, which seems that the STC was keen and still is on its return in order to take responsibility for the outstanding files, foremost the file of services. But the government, according to the STC’s media, always invokes the security aspect, despite the STC delegation’s statements that government’s return and security arrangements are linked to the commands of the joint operations of the Arab coalition.

On the other hand, the position of the other party in the parity government seemed sharp towards the STC, accusing the latter of impeding the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement through escalation measures and not assisting the government return and secure its headquarters in Aden. It appears that the recent military appointments issued by Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, STC President, caused a kind of provocation to the government and Riyadh alike. Saudi Aarabia issued a statement considering that such measures are a violation of the terms of the Riyadh Agreement and are inconsistent with it, calling on the two parties to respond to what has been agreed upon and renounce their differences1.

At the same time, the STC considers the appointments internal affairs related to the strength of his military structure, justifying this by the unreasonableness of the Minister of Defense of Al-Maqdashi or General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar to issue such decisions within the mainly independent STC forces which were not integrated within the scope of the military units of the pro-government Army. In addition, the political appointments in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and unilateral moves, despite the political partnership within the framework of a parity government are similarly unjustified without referring to the STC, according to its activists. How do parties in the government denounce the political and military appointments made by the STC while the government is basically working alone.

This is the same thing that was followed by the government of Maeen in dealing with the recent appointments of Aden governor, Ahmed Lamlas, which it rejected and opposed claiming it was a violation although it is the prerogative of the local authority in Aden. But at the same time it turns a blind eye to similar appointments in other governorates, including Shabwa, Marib and Mahra, that are not subject to the STC's authority, in a kind of double standards in dealing with the parties.

Other than that, the main point of contention between the two parties to the Riyadh Agreement was the eighth item, which stipulates the formation of a joint negotiating delegation, and that the STC has the right to be represented in any upcoming peace process, but procrastination and evasion are always present from the other party, according to STC statements on the issue. In addition to other points of contention, including the withdrawal of the Yemeni Army forces that have come from Marib to Shabwa and parts of Abyan since August 2019, and their return to their positions, to be replaced by the Shabwani Elite and Security Belt forces.

The greater reliance on the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement was not placed on its two sides as much as it was dependent on the role of the sponsor of the agreement and its great influence on the parties and the size of its political power in the Yemeni scene. However, it is noticeable that the local Yemeni comments on this sponsorship were limited to the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammad Al Jaber, whose political presence in the agreement with the Yemeni public outweighed the presence of his country itself. However, some observers attribute the rise of the ambassador's personal presence to his official/formal presence; Because of what they considered the old relations he enjoyed with parties in the government since he took over the military attaché in his country’s embassy in Sanaa 2009; Which he said in more than one interview that it provided him with establishing strong diplomatic and personal relations in Yemen2. This might be an advantage that the STC does not enjoy in the negotiations to implement the Riyadh Agreement compared to the other party.

An acceptable broker

Completing the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement is linked to diplomatic efforts seeking to enter into the upcoming peace negotiations between the parties to the conflict in Yemen, regardless of the mechanism that the new UN envoy may follow, in which the rest of the parties seek to participate in multiple tracks that are not limited to the bilateral model based on a Security Council resolution 2216. This is related to the importance of arranging the anti-Houthi camp before embarking on comprehensive peace efforts.

The latest Omani visit to Neom, Saudi Arabia, which lasted for two days during which the Saudi King Salman and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, had its connotations. It seemed that it is one of the changing signs in the Arab Gulf region, especially since the relationship was almost lukewarm between the two countries, as a result of Muscat's close association with Tehran. The most prominent competitor to Riyadh in the region.

The Saudi-Omani rapprochement regarding the Yemeni crisis is important for the two parties in several aspects. Especially since they share land and sea borders with Yemen. Riyadh is interested in Muscat to continue its efforts to support the peace process in Yemen, especially as it is an acceptable mediator for the Houthi's side, which argues that those directly involved in the war should not play a mediating role, referring to Saudi Arabia. Other than that, it seems that differences over oil policies in the "OPEC Plus" alliance between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi caused some kind of tension recently. Some tweeters have interpreted the Saudi-Omani rapprochement as an alternative to the alliance between Saudi Arabia and the UAE with no official comments yet.

Most likely, the economic competition between the two close war allies in Yemen, and the advancement of national interests above anything for the two countries, will be present during the coming period. However, attempts to contain tension and emphasize the strength of relations between the two countries continue, and this was confirmed by the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to Saudi Arabia on Monday, which for them represents a strategic importance for bilateral cooperation facing any external interference in the region, as well as protect it from all forms of extremism and armed groups.

Therefore, to the extent that these descriptions reflect economic tension between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Oman is interested in extricating itself from its internal conflict based on the economic crisis it is experiencing. The economic file that the Sultan brought with him to northern Saudi Arabia is what concerns Muscat in the first place, especially after the events that took place in late May last month, when protesters in the Omani city of Sohar took to the streets, to demand reforms and contain the unemployment crisis.

On the other hand, one of the reasons for the visit was the Yemeni crisis file within the framework of international efforts to solve it. The Omani position is not different from the Saudi position regarding finding a peaceful solution to the crisis in Yemen and alleviating the human suffering of the Yemeni people, which was expressed in the statement of the Neom Summit [3]. The recent Saudi-Omani rapprochement may prepare diplomatic ground in a different way and distanced from the bias approach that was appearing in Muscat's dealings with the Houthis, despite its attempts to appear otherwise. For some parties, however, it could remain the acceptable mediator in peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

An expected return to the Riyadh talks

The general political situation indicates, in light of recent developments, whether domestically or abroad; Especially in the course of Gulf relations, there is a tendency to return to complete the implementation of the provisions of the Riyadh Agreement. Given the importance of arranging the status of the anti-Houthi parties before entering into any comprehensive peace talks. Although the STC stresses the efforts of parties in the government to obstruct the course of the talks, it seems that the sponsors of the agreement will work to contain tension and push for the resumption of the negotiation process, which will most likely lead to progress that ends the deadlock between the Hadi government and the STC, especially after the visit of Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince, the strong ally for the STC, to Riyadh.

It should be said that relying on an approach based on contemplation between the two parties is not the solution, but rather requires replacing it with a strategy based on clear main points, in which each party puts what it has and what it have to do, in order to move towards a new stage of negotiations. 

Resident Fellow with South24 Center, researcher on political affairs.