US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with PLC Chairman Rashad Al-Alimi, in New York on September 19, 2022. (Reuters)

Where did the Diplomatic Efforts on Yemen Reach?


Sun, 18-06-2023 01:04 PM, Aden

The state of no peace and no war won't apparently continue for more time

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

More than 8 months have passed since the expiration of the truce in Yemen in October. Since then, the country has entered into an undeclared truce accompanied by several diplomatic paths to reach a new agreement and prevent the return of the war. The Omani-brokered bilateral talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis have come on top of these moves.

These talks led to the first declared visit on April 8 by a Saudi delegation, headed by Saudi ambassador Mohammed Al-Jabir, to the Houthi-controlled Sanaa. This came amid news about an imminent agreement which has not been achieved so far.

Moreover, the visit has not been repeated as expected amid ongoing threats of the resumption of war by the Houthi militias. This raised questions about the fate of the Omani mediation and other diplomatic paths that aim at solving the crisis in Yemen.

The latest moves

On June 6, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, arrived in Saudi Arabia as part of a tour that included several meetings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) Rashad Al-Alimi.

Al-Alimi discussed with Blinken several issues, foremost of which were the efforts to renew the truce, how to halt the flow of Iranian weapons to the Houthis, the US economic support to Yemen, and counterterrorism according to the official news agency "Saba".

Saudi newspaper "Okaz" cited PLC sources that "the meeting with Blinken was positive and that he stressed the need to support the Saudi initiative to achieve peace in Yemen".

Blinken's visit came concurrently with intensified diplomatic activities of the Special UN Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, who visited the US, China and Japan lately. On June 4, he met in Riyadh with the PLC members and other Yemeni officials.

In a statement on Twitter, his office said: "Grundberg met Rashad Al-Alimi, Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, Maeen Abdulmalik and Sultan Al-Burkani in Riyadh and discussed ways to reach consensus on measures to improve living conditions, a nationwide ceasefire and an inclusive process under UN-auspices to transition to lasting peace in Yemen".

On May 27, Grundberg's office said: "He discussed with Beijing recent progress and challenges relating to UN-led mediation in Yemen ''.

The statement added: "The visit comes as part of his engagements with the UNSC P5 to ensure concerted international accompaniment to Yemenis for lasting peace". On May 17, Grundberg concluded a visit to Washington.

His office said: "Special Envoy Grundberg concluded today a visit to Washington DC where he met Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senior U.S. officials to explore ways to support progress towards a Yemeni-owned political process under UN-auspices and a sustainable solution to the conflict".

On the same day, Grundberg briefed the UNSC and expressed his optimism toward the achievement of the latest deal of exchanging war prisoners between the Yemeni government and the Houthis.

He stressed that "any agreement to move forward should include the resumption of a Yemeni-led and UN-sponsored political process". He added: "The partial or interim solutions are not able to confront hardships and other many challenges that face Yemen".

Meanwhile, some EU ambassadors visited Aden. On May 16, they met Rashad Al-Alimi and Aidrous Al-Zubaidi before the two men headed to Saudi Arabia.

The Omani mediation
The second round of the Omani-brokered Sanaa talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis has not been conducted so far. Politicians believe that the talks between Riyadh and the Northern group have encountered obstacles.

In this regard, Anis Al-Sharafi, Deputy Head of the STC's Foreign Affairs Department said: "According to the developments, the Saudi-Houthi talks did not stop but they apparently encountered many obstacles".

The Southern official believes that the most prominent among those obstacles “is the Houthi limitless preconditions which seek a peace that secures a victory for them”. He noted that this is rejected by Saudi Arabia and the Arab Coalition in addition to the anti-Houthi forces, foremost of which is the STC.

Houthi Leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi and other leaders criticized Saudi Arabia. They stressed that the kingdom is a party of the Yemen crisis not a mediator. Since its military intervention in Yemen in 2015, Riyadh has stressed that it just plays a mediation role in Yemen. 

Accordingly, the “party or mediator” dilemma is apparently among the real obstacles that face the Omani mediation currently. Saudi security and strategic researcher Brigadier General Dr. Matir Alrwaily stressed that the Kingdom is not part of the conflict in Yemen.

He told “South24 Center”: “Saudi Arabia serves as a peace advocate. It fulfilled its goals of the war by thwarting the Houthi expansion. It now tries to fix the Yemeni affairs”. Expert Abdulaziz Al-Oqab, Chairman of the Fekr Organization for Dialogue and Human Rights Defense, believes that “the Omani mediation didn’t fail as it is related to a certain mission not certain timings or results”.

He told “South24 Center”: “It emanated from an ongoing approach and a wise policy based on moderation as well as the ability to facilitate things and reach reconciliation between different parties. Thus, Saudi Arabia is constantly seeking rapprochement and mediation”.

Political analyst Rashid Al-Haddad, who lives in Sanaa, agrees that the Omani mediation is still in place. He told “South24 Center”: “All indications on the ground underscore the continuation of the Omani mediation role in Yemen”.

“Sanaa has not announced closing the peace door although it warned Saudi Arabia from wasting the chances of peace. The situation over the past period has approached square zero. The return to escalation became possible amid the decline of the peace trajectory and the diplomatic movement”, he added.

Al-Haddad believes that “moving from war to peace needs preparations and trust-building steps to motivate different parties to engage in serious negotiations”.

Indications of the diplomatic movement 

As the diplomatic activity on Yemen is focused in Saudi Arabia which hosts the leaders of the internationally- recognized government, Alrwaily believes that "the Kingdom became the center of attention of international and regional powers due to its policies and centrality in all issues of the region, top of which is Yemen".

Al-Oqab pointed out that the latest intensified diplomatic moves indicate that "everyone became convinced of the need for a political solution in Yemen after these long years of war and suffering".

He added: "There are big flaws in the previous dialogue mechanisms. There is a big difference between theory and reality. The matter requires a realistic initiative based on facts. This would lead to practical moves to build trust as well as dialogues with a framework and governing monitoring and guarantor mechanisms".

What is next?

STC official Al-Sharafi said that the political process "is heading to failure". He added that the reasons behind that include "the lack of inclusiveness regarding issues and parties as well as the special focus on demands of the Houthis and external actors at the expense of active political parties and the core issues, the foremost of whom are the South people".
Al-Sharafi noted that "there is no peace without solving the Southern issue in a way that fulfills the aspirations of the South people. The STC repeatedly stressed its rejection of bartering the South issue or its resources in any settlement".

"The Houthis don't head towards achieving peace. They consider this matter as a break by which they can restore their power and enhance their economic capabilities before launching a new military campaign", he added.

Alrwaily stressed the importance of maintaining consensus among the PLC in the incoming periods. He said that "The aim of everyone should be repelling the Houthi militia and restoring the state before focusing on any other issues".

Al-Haddad ruled out that things will head towards escalation or the failure of political efforts. He believes that "Saudi Arabia no longer wants the resumption of war".

He pointed out that "Riyadh has priorities to implement Vision 2030. This was clear through the latest Saudi moves through the Ramadan negotiations and the positive understanding confirmed by Sanaa and Riyadh. This is also related to maintaining pacification during past months".

He indicated that "the return of the Saudi delegation to hold a second tour is still possible as no party announced the end of direct negotiations. However, Sanaa has preconditions including implementing more trust-building steps and carrying out Ramadan understandings, especially regarding the humanitarian aspect".

Al-Oqab believes that "the previous and future meetings are the right move in the solution path. Dialogue will remain the right way to reach proper and fair solutions. This is realized by all parties".

"Existing discrepancies in some technical and legal details will be overridden. Any talks usually witness obstacles and differences till reaching agreed solutions. We will hear of positive results soon", he elaborated. 

So far, there is no clear horizon for a sustainable peace process in Yemen. The scenarios of interim solutions or those prepared to serve certain parties would dominate possibilities over the incoming period.

The state of no peace and no war won't apparently continue for more time, especially with the disclosure of the new economic war currently. The repercussions of halting oil exports due to the Houthi attacks began to impact people in South Yemen.

Abdullah Al-Shadli 

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

South YemenYemenNorth YemenPLCHouthisSTCSaudi ArabiaGrundbergOman