UAE tank in the port of Hodeidah (EBA)

Yemen: The Present Absentee in Biden’s KSA Summit


Wed, 13-07-2022 09:41 PM, Aden

Ayad Qassem (South24)

Riyadh and the Middle East prepare to receive the 46th president of the United States Joe Biden in his first visit to the region since taking office on Jan 20th 2021. After visiting Israel today (Wednesday) and his subsequent meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Biden will head to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on Friday in an attempt to mend relationships with its leaders. This comes as part of Washington's efforts to mobilize international stances to serve its interests in the face of the threats related to Russia and China along with fuel challenges.

US officials and western media outlets said that Biden will meet in Riyadh with the Saudi King and his Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) as well as leaders of other GCC states. The meetings will also include the presidents of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

Yemen, KSA's close southern neighbor which has been hit by a civil war for more than 7 years, will apparently be absent from these meetings whose agenda includes discussing the situation there marginally.

White House officials said that the Biden’s trip aims to help making more Israeli integration in the region, enhance the ceasefire between the KSA and Yemen, make an alignment with the KSA, Israel and other Arab partners about a stumbled nuclear deal with Iran, and confront the influence of China and Russia in the Middle East according to the US newspaper, the Hill. 

Biden will likely ask Riyadh to keep supporting the truce. In June, the White House took a relatively rare approach by recognizing the role played by MBS to extend the ceasefire in Yemen.

The UN-mediated talks led in April to the first truce between the KSA and the Houthis since 2016. The UN Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg told the UNSC that "Three and a half months into the truce resulted in a significant reduction in civilian casualties". However, he warned from voices who doubt the truce's benefits. He described those calls as being "dangerous".

The US policy towards Yemen has long come through Saudi channels. Washington looks at Riyadh as being the most effective in the Yemeni scene, especially after its main contribution in the war it leads in this poor country. Biden's visit will enhance such a perspective by ignoring engaging Yemen in these meetings and will contribute in weakening the Yemeni local parties.

Currently, Yemen is governed by two authorities; the first one is the Iran-backed Houthis in North. The second is the PLC which was recently established by the KSA and the UAE. It is based in South Yemen and some parts of Marib, Taiz and the western coast. The newly- formed PLC consists of 8 members headed by Rashad Al-Alimi. The latter is the KSA's primal man in the PLC as he has old ties with the kingdom's ruling authorities.

The absence of Yemen in the Riyadh summit may stem from Washington's hesitant stance towards the Houthis who have links with Iran. The Biden administration does not want the Houthis to adopt a more intransigent stance if it invites the PLC which represents the legitimate government in Yemen, especially that the White House seeks at least to prolong the truce in Yemen and uses this in its pressure policy to revive the nuclear deal with Iran.

After the Biden administration backed away from the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group last year, Yemeni officials accused the new US administration of giving the Houthis the green light to control more land in Yemen. The Biden administration decided to stop selling offensive weapons to the KSA along with its logistic support to the war there. Biden appointed Lenderking as the US Special Envoy to Yemen to lead the ceasefire efforts but he failed in his task.

Recently, Washington resorted again to praise the Saudi efforts in the extended ceasefire truce declared by the UN and which is scheduled to end on August 1st. For the first time, Biden hailed the role played by the Saudi Crown Prince in this regard. This comes after Biden's hard line stance towards MBS as the US administration alleges he is involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. 

However, Washington's dealing with Yemen remains limited as this country is still represented by outsider proxies. This probably pushed Yemeni diplomat Yassin Saeed Numan to tell Washington that "Yemen is an ancient country which has a history that stands on an equal foot with the most ancient countries in the globe regarding civilization, architecture and state".

"Yemen does not need ready-made solutions with just humanitarian standards if they don't secure sustainable peace that enables the Yemenis to reach consensus about building their state and their democratic political system that gives people the right to determine their political choices" according to the Yemeni ambassador in the UK. Based on that, Numan believes that "the political root of the problem in the international community's discourse declined due to the stress on the humanitarian aspect. This is what the Houthi militias bet on".

He added: "The Yemenis are more capable to express their issue if the US and the international community want to effectively contribute in ending the conflict in Yemen in a way that prevents wars and achieves security and peace for the Yemeni People". Yassin believes that "if Biden is really interested in peace in Yemen, the negotiation table about the region's issues should expand to include Yemen. The voice of Yemen along with the voice of allies' brothers will be intuitive and valuable in confirming the close and the systematic interdependence that resists projects which act against the region’s interests".

A report issued by the Carnegie-affiliate, Malcolm Institute considered that the KSA is responsible for Yemen’s absence from the Biden summit. It added that "the KSA is less enthusiastic to engage its ally Yemen in the planned meetings. This indicates that Yemen's impact on the region is the most important for those players while they don't care about its internal stability".

Although Yemen will be the present Absentee in this visit in light of its scheduled agenda, western reports doubted that Yemen will be on top of Biden visit's agenda. This comes amid a background of the increase in oil prices, the ongoing tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia regarding Khashoggi in 2018 and Washington's attempts to confront the influence of Russia and China.

The policy of keeping Yemen on the sidelines in issues that determine the fate of South and North and other regional matters on the long run won't absolutely help in achieving the desired results. This includes Interaction and regional integration sought by its neighbors and western allies in the face of different security and economic challenges in the region.

Ayad Qassem 

Founder and Chairman of South24 Center for News and Studies, journalist and researcher

YemenBiden visitSaudi summitPLCYemen truce