U.S. President Joe Biden says Yemen's civil war must end and pledges to stop U.S. support for Saudi-led offensive operations in the conflict while maintaining support for Saudi Arabia.
Analysts examining the six-year-old war in the Arab world's poorest nation — now in the grips of the world's worst humanitarian crisis — welcome the decision, but some say details need to be worked out.
Nabeel Khoury, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, says ending the war in Yemen will achieve key initial goals of the Biden Administration: "restoring the United States' leadership role in international affairs and reducing tensions in the Gulf. In addition, it would be in the best national security interests of the U.S."
Saudi Arabia and its Arab coalition partners found themselves mired in conflict in Yemen after launching a war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in 2015, in part to contain Iran's growing influence in the Arab Gulf region. A third of Yemen's population, the Shi’ite Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system but they have also launched missile and drone attacks on Saudi population centers.
Saudi Arabia, as well as Yemen's warring parties, welcomed Biden's statement. Yemen's internationally recognized government, backed by the Saudi coalition, stressed the "importance of supporting diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis."
While the Houthis, who control much of the country, including the capital, Sana’a, said they support the approach.
Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman said the kingdom looked forward to working with its American partners to "alleviate the humanitarian situation and find a solution to the Yemen crisis, and ensure peace and stability." Adding, that he also appreciated Biden's commitment to help protect Saudi Arabia and its people.
Helen Lackner, a Yemen researcher currently at the University of London's SOAS Middle East Institute, says the development will also benefit the Saudis.
"I'm absolutely convinced the Saudis want to get out. The problem is that they want to get out without being totally humiliated," Lackner said. "And the Houthi are not inclined to make that easy for them. End of 2019, we all thought things would calm down. The war would sort of disappear in 2020 with or without an agreement. Then, the Houthis started the big offensive in Jawf. The Houthis don't totally agree and there are different tendencies within them. But there are definitely strong Houthis who are determined to make things as difficult for the Saudis as they possibly can."
Ahmed Nagi, a nonresident fellow at Beirut's Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, also highlights the complexity of Yemen's war.
“Today, we have not just one conflict, actually we have a series of conflicts," Nagi said. "Usually, people say what's happening in Yemen is a conflict between Iran and Saudis and they are fighting each other through their proxies. But if we go deeply inside Yemen, we can find so many conflicts within this big war.”
The U.N. says most of Yemen's 30 million people need some form of aid or protection, with more than 13 million Yemenis facing acute food insecurity. Pentagon officials in recent years warned that neither side will win Yemen's war and it could expand, dragging the U.S. into a wider regional conflict.