The US Congress has been mobilizing to increase support for American and international efforts to resolve the Yemeni crisis. US Special Envoy to Yemen, Time Lenderking visited Saudi Arabia as part of a regional tour – his seventh – since assuming his post in February with the aim of pushing for a comprehensive ceasefire in the war-torn country.
Asharq Al-Awsat learned that intense pressure is being exerted at Congress to encourage legislators to support American efforts to end the crisis. Calls are also mounting to hold the Iran-backed Houthi militias accountable for their crimes against the Yemenis and for pursuing their offensive in the Marib province.
These efforts are being spearheaded by former senator Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota. He has been in contact with members of the Senate and Congress to pressure them to hold the Houthis to account for the deterioration of the situation in Yemen and for the failure of the negotiations that are backed by the Saudi government and members of the Arab coalition.
Asharq Al-Awsat received a copy of a letter that he addressed to senators. He said: “Saudi Arabia continues to support efforts by the US Government and the United Nations to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Yemen. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced an initiative in late March to reach a nationwide ceasefire in Yemen and reach a comprehensive political resolution to the conflict under the auspices of the United Nations. Unfortunately, the Houthis have refused to come the negotiating table in good faith.”
“It is critically important that Members of Congress put the blame for the needless suffering in Yemen where it belongs: on the Houthis and on their patron, the Iranian regime,” he urged.
In wake of these efforts, some Republican Senators James Risch, of Idaho, Marco Rubio, of Florida, Todd Young, of Indiana, and Mike Crapo, of Idaho, sent a joint letter to US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield to ask her to bring much needed international attention to the violent human rights abuses committed by the Houthis in Yemen.
Earlier this week, the State Department announced that Lenderking would travel to Saudi Arabia on June 15-17 to meet with senior officials from the Saudi and Yemeni governments, as well as UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.
Throughout the trip, Special Envoy Lenderking will discuss the latest efforts to achieve a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire, which is the only way to bring Yemenis the relief they so urgently need.
In the latest American move to confront Iran and its support to the Houthis, the Treasury imposed sanctions on a number of Yemenis, Iranians and entities for facilitating the transfer of funds, estimated at millions of dollars to the Houthis, as part of a global network affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Griffiths’ ‘farewell’ efforts
Griffiths gave his final briefing on Yemen to the Security Council on Wednesday. He stressed that a negotiated political settlement is the only way to end the war. The legitimate government has stressed its commitments to the references to resolve the crisis, calling on the international community to exert more pressure on the Houthis to accept peace.
Griffiths had returned from Riyadh ahead of giving his final briefing. He met there with Lenderking. The State Department said in a series of tweets that Lenderking held talks with US Charge d’Affaires to Yemen Cathy Westley and Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al Jaber on the importance of making progress in the Riyadh Agreement. They also slammed the increasing barbaric Houthi attacks against civilians in Marib and the militias’ hindering of the peace process.
Lenderking and Westley also met with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik. They expressed to him their hope that the cabinet may again resume meeting in the interim capital Aden. Lenderking also underscored the importance of the free flow of goods, especially fuel, through Hodeidah port and throughout Yemen.
These statements were interpreted as a form of pressure by the American envoy on the legitimate government to end its inspection of ships docking at Hodeidah.
Official Yemeni sources said that the PM discussed with Lenderking in Riyadh current US and UN peace proposals and his government’s positive approach towards them. He stressed the pressure the international community and UN can exert on the Houthis and their Iranian backers to end the war and attacks against civilians and refugees, especially in Marib, and Saudi Arabia.
Abdulmalik said that his country appreciates the clear American position in identifying the party that is obstructing peace efforts. He underlined the need to double pressure on the Houthis and their supporters, noting that the recent sanctions against them were a significant development.
Any peace course should start with a real ceasefire, the state news agency quoted him as saying. The UN and international community must ensure that the peace is respected.
He warned, however, that based on previous experience, even if the Houthis comply with international pressure to join peace efforts, they will still use the lull to regroup and rebuild their forces ahead of sparking fighting again.
Govt calls for new UN approach
The Yemeni sources said that Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak had stressed during talks with Griffiths on Thursday the importance of the UN and international community adopting a new approach that forces the Houthis to abandon war and their obstructive policies. They should be persuaded into reconciling with the Yemeni people to put an end to the humanitarian tragedy and bloodshed.
Griffiths, for his part, said that the current negotiated political settlement alone is capable of putting affairs back on track. It alone will end the war and pave the way for fair sustainable peace for all Yemenis.
Bin Mubarak also held talks with British Ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron.
The sources said the FM stressed the government’s commitment to peace and UN, regional and international efforts to that end.
He slammed the Houthis for rejecting the peace proposals, as reflected in their continued escalation in Marib and the Hajjah province.
The militias, he added, are bound to the Iranian regime and its destructive agenda in the region.
Several observers believe that the decision for the Houthis to accept any peace plan must come from Tehran.
They also speculated that the recent Omani mediation, aimed at pushing forward the UN plan, may succeed if the Houthis reap political gains in return, such as allowing them collect Hodeidah port revenues and controlling flights from Sanaa airport.
The observers appeared skeptical of the Houthis’ intentions, highlighting a recent speech by their leader, who appeared to disregard the UN and international peace efforts. He instead called on his followers to collect more funds and recruit more fighters for the war effort.
As Griffiths’ tenure comes to an end next month, the US will likely turn to Muscat’s efforts in persuading the Houthis to agree to a ceasefire.
During his briefing, Griffiths acknowledged that the parties have yet to overcome their differences.
The Houthis are insisting on a “stand-alone agreement on the Hodeidah ports and Sanaa airport, as a condition precedent for the ceasefire and the launch of the political process,” he revealed. This position was confirmed to him by Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi in Sanaa.
“This was not enough. The Government of Yemen, as we know well, on the other hand, insisted all these issues, the ports, the airport, the ceasefire, the political process launch, all these issues be agreed to and implemented as a package, and in particular with the focus on getting that ceasefire started,” continued the envoy.
“Unfortunately, as of now, none of these suggestions have been accepted. I hope very very much indeed, I’m sure we all do, that the efforts undertaken by the Sultanate of Oman as well as others (…) will bear fruit and that we will soon hear a different turn of fate for Yemen,” stressed Griffiths.