Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman meeting the Yemen's PLC - November 15, 2023 (official)

What is Happening in Riyadh Regarding Yemen?


Wed, 22-11-2023 03:57 PM, Aden

The sources stressed that the PLC members had accepted the Saudi roadmap, after offering their remarks on it. Saudi Arabia will resume the dialogue with the Houthis alone.

Jacob Al-Sufyani (South24)

Informed Yemeni sources told South24 Center that the latest regional diplomatic efforts regarding ending the conflict in Yemen have not made any progress. This comes as the Iranian-backed Houthi militia escalates tensions through their hostility toward commercial ships in the Red Sea, which is threatening international navigation.
A new round of diplomatic and political efforts regarding Yemen recently began in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The meetings were initially marked by feelings of optimism toward reaching a new agreement between all parties, nearly one year since the UN-brokered truce officially expired in October 2022, without extension.

The Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) held individual and group meetings with the UN and US envoys, and ambassadors of the states that sponsor peace in Yemen. It also held its second meeting in a month with Saudi Defense Minister, Prince Khalid Bin Salman, last Wednesday.

UN Envoy to Yemen 

Last Wednesday, the UN Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said: “Discussions focused on the progress of the efforts to reach an agreement that addresses some of the deteriorating living conditions in Yemen, establishes a nationwide ceasefire, and paves the way for an inclusive intra-Yemeni political process under UN auspices”. 

The UN Envoy's speech indicated that the talks were mainly focused on reaching an agreement related to the economic situation, while further talks on the political, military, and security issues would be delayed to a later stage. This brings the “roadmap” in Yemen back to the surface, after it was adopted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)  following direct bilateral talks with the Houthis over the year. 

In fact, the Saudi Defense Minister highlighted the roadmap in a post on “X” about his meeting with the PLC Chairman and members. He said that the meeting discussed “the roadmap among the Yemeni parties to end the crisis under UN auspices”. 

In a report, Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat quoted an unidentified Yemeni source as saying that the latest moves in Riyadh “revolve around the initial peace map that was submitted last Ramadan [April] after being modified by the Yemeni internationally recognized government and the Houthis”.

According to the government, the PLC was briefed a month ago about the peace map draft, on which it made some modifications and remarks. The source indicated that the PLC refused the draft's initial form, and subsequently conducted amendments. 

The newspaper did not specify the nature of the amendments and remarks submitted by the PLC. However, the source said that the Houthis did accept some amendments to the peace map’s initial form, including  proposed mechanisms for taxes and customs in the Port of Hodeidah, and salary payments. 

Still, the Houthis have not officially announced their approval or suggestions for amendments on any Yemeni roadmap draft. The employees’ salaries and the Houthis’ demands of allocating them from oil revenues, especially in South Yemen, have been the main obstacles in reaching any agreement during this time. 

A Houthi delegation, chaired by Mohammed Abdulsalam, held public talks in Riyadh with Saudi officials, including Prince Khalid bin Salman, for the first time, from September 14th to 19th. This occurred six months after the visit of Saudi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Jaber to Sanaa.

In April, an informed source told South24 Center that the roadmap “consists of three phases, the first one includes measures for building trust such as opening land, sea and aerial borders as well as the resumption of oil exports and exchanging war prisoners. The second phase includes an intra-Yemeni dialogue, while the third one has a comprehensive political operation that would lead to a two-year transitional period.” 

On October 23rd, a diplomatic source in the Southern Transitional Council (STC) reiterated to South24 Center that the roadmap is based on three stages. The first stage deals with the humanitarian and economic crises, with Saudi Arabia set to pay salaries for nearly one year, until the parties reach an agreement on revenue distribution. This is especially important following the resumption of oil and gas exports from the Port of Hodeidah, and the revenue streams generated by it. 

The second stage aims to characterize itself as an intra-Yemeni one, with the establishment of committees in all sectors. The features of the third stage will be identified according to the agreements made in the previous two phases. This is in addition to discussing the most important issues, foremost of which is South Yemen Issue, according to the Southern diplomat. 

Sources close to the subject  told South24 Center that the latest meetings in Riyadh were aimed at convincing the eight PLC members to accept the roadmap, particularly since their positions toward it vary.

The sources stressed that the PLC members had accepted the Saudi roadmap, after offering their remarks on it. Saudi Arabia will resume the dialogue with the Houthis alone.

A Yemeni diplomatic source told South24 Center that the latest Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have complicated any chances of making progress in signing the agreement. He added that at the moment, the United States apparently lacks the enthusiasm needed to complete a deal. 

The source said that a Saudi delegation will likely travel to Sanaa to meet the Houthi leaders.

The Houthis are aspiring to enhance their positions against their local and regional rivals with the latest military escalation against Israel last Sunday, in which they hijacked a cargo ship, partially owned by an Israeli businessman, in the Red Sea. They also aim to recruit thousands of new fighters in North Yemen. Moreover, the group is seeking to consolidate its presence in the region with the Iranian-led ‘Axis of Resistance’ .

The stance of Southerners

As the STC controls several governorates in South Yemen and is the strongest faction there, it insists that South Yemen Issue should be present in all phases of the peace process, including the trust-building stage, according to information obtained by South24 Center.

This naturally includes the implementation of any economic measures related to the fate of the Central Bank and the distribution of wealth. The STC rejects the moving of the Yemeni Central Bank from Aden to Sanaa. It also rejects the Houthi conditions of deriving their employees’ and soldiers’ salaries from resources concentrated in South Yemen.

The resources of South are considered a trump card in the hands of the STC, which represents vast sectors of South Yemen.

Late last year, the Houthis bombed two oil ports in South Yemen, leading to a halt in the production and export of oil in a way that threatened to bankrupt the Yemeni government. 

Responding to the Houthi preconditions regarding salaries would likely give them the lion’s share of these resources, since 80% of the Yemeni population is concentrated in areas under their control.

Furthermore, if reunification of the currency and Central Bank were to take place in phases preceding the political one, thus excluding South Issue.

from consideration in the wider economic context, then any monetary and financial authority would be completely removed from Aden, weakening the power cards that South holds.
Southern political analyst Saleh Al-Noud criticized ignoring certain factors in a way that has raised the ceiling of the Houthis’ demands today. He told South24 Center: “All indications clearly revealed that we will enter this stage. Saudi Arabia wants to get out of the Yemeni crisis that hinders its ambitious visions”.

He believes that any coming agreement would provide opportunities and risks for Southerners at the same time. According to him, “the ability and readiness of the STC to exploit the chances and avoid risks will determine the positives or repercussions of this agreement”.

Al-Noud warned of possible attempts by the Northern parties, including the Houthis and the Northern factions in the Yemeni government, to downplay the importance of South Yemen cause in the roadmap’s political third phase. 

He stressed that “the STC has to push toward securing real guarantees before making progress in the three phases, and that the position of South Yemen cause should be enhanced at each turn and not be left to chance”.

A pacification agreement only

On the other hand, Yemeni political researcher Ezat Moustafa believes that any coming agreement will likely be a temporary de-escalation deal, not a path toward a comprehensive solution.

He told South24 Center, “The Houthis are worried that reaching a comprehensive agreement will accelerate the outbreak of the military status again and the return of the fighting that would backfire [for] them. Therefore, they prefer to keep the status quo”.

Conversely, “the internationally recognized government fears that approaching a comprehensive peace amid the Houthi control on Sanaa would enhance the de facto authority there”. 

Moustafa believes that all parties suffer from a lack of self-confidence in their ability and efficiency to deal with the outcomes. He said: “Everyone is worried about the post-war phase as well as the return of the military confrontations. Therefore, it will be enough for them to extend the de-escalation period as long as possible, regardless of who will benefit economically, who will likely be the Houthis”. 

On Saturday, The Saba News Agency said that the PLC met in Riyadh and discussed “the developments of local and regional conditions, foremost of which are the developments of the mediation, led by the Saudi brothers for reaching a cease-fire and resuming a comprehensive political operation under the supervision of the UN. 

The statement added: “[the] PLC renewed its full support of the Saudi efforts to renew the truce, mitigate the suffering of the Yemeni people, and launch a comprehensive political process that guarantees the restoration of the state institutions, security, and stability”. 

Aden office manager, Fellow, and journalist editor with South24 Center 
Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic

South YemenPLCSaudi ArabiaAidrous Al-ZubaidiRashadAl-AlimiHouthis