Saudis optimistic of progress on Yemen war agreement

Remarks by foreign minister suggest Riyadh has given up on a military solution

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud has said progress will be achieved in efforts to end the Yemen war once the ceasefire is reinstated and negotiations begin on a settlement.

During a panel discussion at the world Economic Forum in Davos, he said the eight-year conflict can only be resolved by political agreement, indicating Riyadh has given up on a military solution.

The prince said Riyadh has pursued talks with Tehran to reach accommodations over Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, countries where the Sunni kingdom has been vying for influence with Shia Iran. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in Yemen’s civil conflict in 2015 after Houthi rebels – who enjoy marginal Iranian support – drove former president Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi from the capital Sanaa.

In his address to the Davos panel, UN envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said halting the Yemen war “will not be easy” but revealed that efforts by Saudi Arabia and Oman have advanced the objective of resuming the ceasefire observed between April and October. Mr Grunberg said these efforts have clarified the positions of the Houthis and the Saudi-sponsored government and produced “options for mutually acceptable solutions”.


Although the sides have observed “military restraint” since the ceasefire ended, Mr Grunberg warned: “A simple miscalculation could reignite a cycle of violence that will be difficult to reverse.”

He called on combatants to “actively work to extend the longest period of relative quiet we have seen in the past eight years”.

Following the Davos declarations, Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen television channel’s website cited an anonymous Houthi source who said progress had been made in the talks, which are being mediated by Oman. He said: “Many proposals were put on the table, but they are yet to be discussed.” The source said the proposals are limited to humanitarian issues and the ceasefire.

In return for resuming the ceasefire, the Houthis seek an end to the Saudi blockade of rebel-held ports and Sanaa’s airport and want the central bank, located in government-held-territory, to pay the salaries of all civil servants. The government has demanded that the Houthis lift the siege of the government-occupied city of Taiz.

The situation on the ground remains static, with the Houthis in control of the north where 80 per cent of Yemenis live, while the Saudi air force has suspended aerial bombing of rebel positions and Sanaa, where the Houthis have established a separate administration.

UN relief director Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council last week that 21.6 million out of 32 million Yemenis will require humanitarian aid this year. He warned that last year there were “3,300 access incidents [which] affected the provision of assistance to more than five million people.” According to the UN, 377,000 Yemenis have been killed or have died from disease or deprivation since the Saudi-Emirati intervention.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times