Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that progress was being made towards ending the Yemen war, in which Riyadh leads a military coalition, but more work was needed, including reinstating a truce and transitioning to a permanent ceasefire.
Speaking on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said the eight-year conflict would only be resolved through a political settlement.
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Al Saud said the kingdom was also trying to find a path to dialogue with Iran as the best way to resolve differences over several conflicts, including the one in Yemen.
The Middle East’s leading Sunni Muslim and Shia powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran have for years vied for influence in a rivalry that has played out across the region in events such as the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
Riyadh and Tehran cut ties in 2016 but officials from the two countries have held five rounds of direct talks hosted by Iraq since last year, the last of which was in April, without achieving any diplomatic breakthroughs.
Speaking on the same panel, the United Nations envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said ending the war in Yemen “will not be easy” and mistrust remains, but that serious steps have been taken recently.
Yemen, the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, has been devastated since 2014 by the conflict opposing Houthi rebels backed by Iran and pro-government forces supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.
On Monday, Grundberg said he was encouraged by what he called an intensification of diplomatic efforts to arrange a new truce in the war there.
Noting the increased diplomacy around Yemen – particularly involving Saudi Arabia and Oman, Grundberg pointed to a possible “step change in the trajectory” of the conflict, calling it “a possibility that should not be wasted and that demands responsible actions”.
The recent diplomatic contacts had helped clarify the parties’ positions, as well as “options for mutually acceptable solutions”, Grundberg said.
But he also cautioned that despite a showing of “general military restraint” by both sides, “a simple miscalculation could reignite a cycle of violence that will be difficult to reverse.”
In April 2022, Houthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa and other major population centres in Yemen’s north, and the Yemeni government agreed to a United Nations-sponsored truce.
The truce held for six months, despite repeated violations. It expired on October 2, and since then, “the overall military situation in Yemen has remained stable,” Grundberg informed the UN Security Council. “There has been no major escalation.”
However, he noted that limited military activity along the front lines had, “regrettably, also resulted in civilian casualties”.
The Swedish diplomat warned that such activity, “combined with negative rhetoric and escalatory political and economic measures”, could trigger a new cycle of violence.
He urged all parties to “actively work to extend the longest period of relative quiet we have seen in the past eight years”.