Western, Arab countries welcome Saudi initiative to end Yemen war

SMA NEWS – Riyadh

Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab said: “I welcome today’s announcement by Saudi Arabia on Yemen. A nationwide ceasefire and action to ease humanitarian access restriction are essential.”

Saudi Arabia’s new peace initiative to end the war in Yemen was warmly welcomed on Monday by the international community, including Western and Arab countries.

“There is no doubt that every effort must be made to end the conflict and the suffering of the Yemeni people, and the United Nations looks forward to continuing its work with the parties to achieve this goal,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, stressing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the Saudi announcement.

Haq noted that UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths “has been working extensively with the parties to see what can be done to bring them together on the sort of proposals that he made in the Security Council. … So he will be in touch with the Houthis, as with all parties, to see whether we can go further on this.”

The United States also welcomed the commitment of Saudi Arabia and the internationally-recognised government of Yemen to a new ceasefire plan, the State Department said.

All parties to the Yemen conflict should “commit seriously” to an immediate ceasefire and engage in negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told a news briefing.

Support for the Saudi initiative also came from Arab countries. The United Arab Emirates hailed the initiative as an “invaluable” opportunity to ensure a nationwide ceasefire in Yemen and to pave the way for a permanent political solution in the country, in a statement made by Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The Emirati minister urged the international community to unify efforts and ensure the commitment of all parties concerned to the ceasefire plan.

Sheikh Abdullah also commended the central role played by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to implement the Riyadh Agreement, form the new Yemeni government, reach a peaceful solution and expedite the efforts aimed at putting an end to the Yemen crisis.

He underlined the need to respond positively to the initiative and the importance of all Yemeni forces working together to prioritise their country’s national interests.

Diplomatic adviser of the UAE President Anwar Gargash said in tweet, “the Saudi initiative to end the crisis in Yemen and reach a comprehensive political agreement represents a real opportunity to end the suffering of the brotherly Yemeni people. Saudi Arabia’s good efforts are based on concern for the stability and future of Yemen.”

Bahrain also expressed full support for the initiative, noting that it appreciates “the essential role that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays in maintaining regional security, peace and stability and protecting global interests in this strategic vital region.”

Meanwhile, Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry called on the Yemeni parties “to fully adhere to the initiative to reach the desired political solution according to the three agreed terms of reference.”

The ministry also urged the international community to “support the initiative and launch a political process that ends the ongoing conflict in Yemen in a way that preserves its security and stability.”

Saudi Arabia made two concessions to the Houthis in its plan, while not offering everything the rebels previously wanted. The first involves reopening Sana’a International Airport, a vital link for Yemen to the outside world that hasn’t seen regular commercial flights since 2015.

Officials did not immediately identify what commercial routes they wanted to see resume.

The second would see taxes, customs and other fees generated by the Hodeida port while importing oil put into a joint account of Yemen’s Central Bank. That account would be accessible to the Houthis and Yemen’s recognized government to pay civil servants and fund other programmes, officials said.

The Saudi government and the Yemeni government it supports have accused the Houthis of stealing those funds in the past. An investigation this year by a UN panel of experts said the Houthis had “diverted” about $200 million from that fund.

“Only a small portion of the funds were used to pay salaries,” the report said.

Whether the Houthis accept the Saudi proposal remains in question.

Britain on Monday urged the Houthis to work with Saudi Arabia on ending the six-year war, foreign minister Dominic Raab said.

“I welcome today’s announcement by Saudi Arabia on Yemen. A nationwide ceasefire and action to ease humanitarian access restriction are essential. The Houthis must now match the steps toward peace and put an end to the suffering of the Yemeni people,” Raab said in a tweet.

On Friday, Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi proposed a nationwide ceasefire contingent upon Saudi Arabia reopening Sana’a’s airport to commercial flights and lifting restrictions on cargo shipments to Hodeida. The port handles most of the country’s vital imports.

Both these  are long-standing demands of the Houthis, who swept into Sana’a from their north-western strongholds in September 2014.

“There is nothing new about the Saudi initiative,” another senior Houthi official said on condition of anonymity. “First, the airport and the port must both be opened.”

Prince Faisal criticised the Houthis for making “only more and more demands.”

“The Houthis must decide whether to put their interests first or … Iran’s interests first,” the prince said.

The Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s war in March 2015 as the Houthis threatened to take Yemen’s port city of Aden and completely overrun the country’s internationally recognised government. The Saudis promised that the offensive would be over in short order.

Six years later, the fighting rages on. The war has killed some 130,000 people, including over 13,000 civilians slain in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Project. Tens of thousands of children have died of starvation and disease.

The conflict has also become regional, with the Saudis using US-made weaponry and Iran linked to weapons used by the Houthis to target the kingdom.

Last week, Griffiths warned that “the war is back in full force.” Hundreds of fighters have been killed in the offensive on Marib, while other once-dormant front lines have seen renewed fighting. Saudi television channels repeatedly show black-and-white drone footage set to dramatic music of bombs dropping on suspected Houthi targets.

Yemen’s internationally recognised government praised the Saudi initiative as an effort to “ease the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

But in a statement, its Foreign Affairs Ministry also warned that the Houthis had “met all previous initiatives with obstinacy and procrastination” and had “worked to deepen the humanitarian crisis.”

Since Biden took office, his administration reversed a decision by former President Donald Trump naming the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, allowing US aid to flow into rebel-held territory. He also ended US support for the Saudis in the war.

Biden sent the US envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, to the region to negotiate a political settlement. Lenderking said earlier this month that the Houthis had an unspecified cease-fire proposal before them for a “number of days,” without elaborating. He reportedly met Houthi officials while on a February trip to Oman, something the State Department has declined to acknowledge.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken to the Saudi foreign minister about the war.

Blinken supports efforts “to end the conflict in Yemen, starting with the need for all parties to commit to a cease-fire and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid,” the statement said.

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