WASHINGTON – Saudi Arabia is offering Houthi rebels in Yemen a nationwide ceasefire and reopening of the country’s main airport to end the war in Yemen, the kingdom’s foreign minister said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud outlined a “peace initiative” when the Houthi troops pushed an offensive against the strategic city of Marib and after weeks of drone and rocket attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on Saudi territory.
The Saudi proposal called for “a comprehensive ceasefire across the country under the supervision of the United Nations,” it said.
She also proposed the “reopening of Sanaa International Airport for a number of direct regional and international destinations”.
The initiative provides for “consultations between the Yemeni parties to find a political solution to the Yemeni crisis under the auspices of the United Nations,” the statement said.
Saudi Arabia has been internationally criticized and condemned for bombing and wounding Yemen that killed and wounded thousands of civilians, and for restricting access to Yemen’s ports in what the United Nations calls the worst humanitarian Crisis of the world designated crisis has exacerbated.
President Joe Biden’s administration has withdrawn US aid to the Saudi war effort and urged Riyadh to seek a peaceful settlement of the war.
The question now is whether the Houthis are ready to lay down their arms and come to the negotiating table, said Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Yemen.
“According to their latest testimony, there is a risk that the Houthis will believe their recent attacks in Marib and across the border into Saudi Arabia will bring them closer to military victory,” he said.
“If so, they may interpret the Saudi offer as evidence of weakness rather than a serious attempt to end the conflict and reach a political settlement.”
Saudi Arabia declared a unilateral ceasefire last year that quickly collapsed.
“We hope that we will hear good news after this initiative is announced,” a senior Saudi official told reporters in a virtual briefing with reporters.
The Saudi initiative resembles a proposal supported by United States Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and US Special Envoy Tim Lenderking. The American envoy recently returned from an extensive trip to the region and said that a “reasonable” proposal for a ceasefire had been presented to the Houthi forces, but that the rebels appeared to be more focused on conducting a military offensive against Marib.
State Secretary Antony Blinken spoke to his Saudi counterpart on Monday, the Foreign Ministry said.
“The Secretary and Secretary of State discussed their close cooperation to support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Griffiths and US Special Envoy Lenderking to end the conflict in Yemen, beginning with the need for all parties to commit to a ceasefire and deployment humanitarian aid facilitate aid, “said the State Department.
The Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have stepped up drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia last month and used increasingly sophisticated drones and missiles to hit targets across the kingdom’s territory, NBC News previously reported.
“We believe the Houthis misinterpreted the United States’ call to end the war in Yemen,” an official from the Saudi Arabia-led coalition said at the same virtual meeting about recent drone and missile strikes on Saudi oil targets.
The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition said Sunday it carried out air strikes on Houthi workshops to assemble ballistic missiles and drones in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state media reported.
Saudi Arabia led a coalition of Sunni-Muslim states to intervene in the 2015 civil war in Yemen and support the country’s internationally recognized government, which had suffered defeat on the battlefield by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels. The civil war has become a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pushed for intervention in Yemen, but six years later the Saudi-led campaign has turned into a swamp for Riyadh. Aid officials say the country is on the brink of famine.
The Houthis have previously called for Saudi restrictions on commercial flights to Sanaa and oil and food imports into the port of Hodeidah to be lifted in order to agree to a ceasefire. The Saudis have defended the restrictions to prevent weapons from being smuggled to their Houthi opponents.
The Saudi plan appears to partially meet the Houthi’s requirements, including by allowing commercial flights to and from Sanaa Airport.
The proposal would ensure that taxes, customs duties and other charges for imported oil in the port of Hodeidah are transferred to a joint account with the Central Bank of Yemen. Both the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government would have access to the account.
The Houthis and the internationally recognized Yemeni government approved the idea in 2018, but Saudi Arabia had never given its full support for it.