Peace in Yemen Requires Far More Than What’s on the Table in Fragile Talks

Peace in Yemen Requires Far More Than What’s on the Table in Fragile Talks
Men loyal to Houthi rebels hold up their weapons as they attend a gathering to show their support for peace talks held in Sweden, Sanaa, Yemen, Dec. 13, 2018 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

Given the level of regional tensions, it is no surprise that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recently concluded trip to the Middle East came with a busy itinerary. Amid questions about the abruptly announced U.S. pullout from Syria, an American response to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal al-Khashoggi, the potential of brokering a resolution to the stalemated rift in the Gulf between Qatar and its neighbors, and the Trump administration’s hard-line stance against Iran, an often overshadowed policy dilemma has shifted toward center stage: the war in Yemen.

It has been more than four years since the Houthis, a Zaidi Shiite-led rebel group, took over Sanaa and forced Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile, spurring Saudi Arabia to lead a military intervention to oust the Houthis and restore Hadi to power. Long-stagnant diplomacy to end the conflict, which has torn the already impoverished country apart and created what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, finally gave way to a breakthrough of sorts in December. After three rounds of unsuccessful talks in Switzerland and Kuwait, twin delegations affiliated with Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized government agreed to a tripartite deal in Sweden on Dec. 13 after over a week of consultations. The agreement struck in Stockholm may have been far from conclusive, but international diplomats cast it as a clear step in the right direction.

The deal has three key components. It aims to prevent a looming military offensive by the Saudi-led coalition on the Houthi-held port of Hodeida, a key outlet for humanitarian aid into Yemen. The parties also committed to jumpstart talks to de-escalate the fighting over Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, which remains under siege by the Houthis and their allies. And, in a prisoner exchange, both parties pledged to release thousands of detainees, some of whom had been held for more than four years.

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