The United States and Iran have welcomed breakthroughs in UN-brokered peace talks between Yemen’s warring parties, who agreed on Thursday to cease fighting for the vital port city of Hodeidah and withdraw their troops.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a statement on Twitter, called the ceasefire between the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels “encouraging”.
“The work ahead will not be easy, but we have seen what many considered improbable begin to take shape,” he said hours after UN announced the outcome of the week-long talks in Sweden.
“The end of these consultations can be the beginning of a new chapter for Yemen,” Pompeo said, adding: “Peace is possible.”
The US provides military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, where more than 14 million people are on the verge of famine following more than four years of war. The UN describes the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people, as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The week-long negotiations were the first between Yemen’s warring sides since 2016, and ended shortly before the US Senate dealt President Donald Trump a symbolic rebuke by voting to recommend an end to US support for the Saudi-led coalition.
Bahram Ghasemi, spokesman for Iran‘s foreign ministry, called Thursday’s agreement “promising” and said Tehran hoped future negotiations, scheduled for January, would bring about a final agreement.
“This shows that Yemeni groups present in the talks well understand the sorry situation of Yemen’s people, and have preferred preventing the worsening of the country’s situation and the continuation of receiving humanitarian aid to their own interests,” Ghasemi said.
Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, also welcomed the ceasefire in a series of posts on Twitter, saying it would “help bring back security to the region, including the security of the Red Sea, a vital waterway for international trade”.
Expressing the Saudi-led coalition’s strong support for the agreement, Prince Khalid said he hoped the Houthis would stop “working on behalf of the Iranian regime’s interests”.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said the deal on the Hodeidah port, a key gateway for aid and food imports, was a much-needed boost for its task of feeding millions of severely hungry Yemenis.
David Beasley, WFP executive director, said: “any progress toward peace is good progress, as long as it helps the Yemeni people who have suffered so much in this conflict”.
Noting that Yemen imports nearly all its food and about 70 percent of that goes through Hodeidah port, he added that “what all of Yemen needs the most, though, is a permanent, lasting and full peace”.
Other measures agreed in Sweden included prisoner swaps and the opening of humanitarian corridors to Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city.
A number of key issues remain unresolved, however, and Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, said a framework for political negotiations would be discussed at the next round of talks at the end of January.
Meanwhile, Margot Wallstrom, Sweden‘s foreign minister, lauded the “positive spirit” of the peace talks.
“It takes concessions, it takes compromises and it takes some courage to get these discussions going and get good results in the end,” Wallstrom said at the closing of the talks.