The State Department released a statement on Friday slamming the Houthis for their refusal to meet with the UN’s special envoy to Yemen and blaming the group for the failure to reach a ceasefire agreement.
“The Houthis passed up a major opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to peace and to make progress on this proposal by refusing to meet with UN Special Envoy Griffiths in Muscat,” the statement said that was released upon the return of the President Biden’s envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking.
The statement said there is a “fair deal on the table that will bring immediate relief to Yemeni people.” It’s not clear what that deal is. The last ceasefire proposal from Saudi Arabia that was made public did not include a full lifting of the blockade on Yemen, which is a key Houthi demand.
Saudi Arabia has been preventing fuel ships from docking in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, which makes delivering food and aid to Yemen’s starving civilian population impossible. The UN is warning that if conditions don’t change, 400,000 Yemeni children under the age of five will starve to death in 2021 alone.
The State Department said Lenderking spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and stressed “the need to ease all restrictions at Hodeidah Port and Sanaa Airport,” but it doesn’t appear there is any real pressure on Riyadh to do so. Lenderking and other Biden officials have been downplaying the impact of the blockade. In April, the State Department told Vox that Saudi warships preventing fuel shipments from entering Hodeidah is “not a blockade.”
The Biden administration is still providing maintenance to the Saudi warplanes despite President Biden’s vow to cut off support for “offensive” Saudi operations in Yemen. If the US cut off support, it would quickly ground the Saudi Air Force, which demonstrates the amount of leverage Biden has over Riyadh that he refuses to use.
Fighting has been raging in Yemen’s Maarib province, the last territory held by the Saudi-backed government. The US is blaming the Houthi offensive in Maarib on the lack of progress towards a peace process.
“Contradictory to their pronouncements regarding the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Houthis worsen it by continuing to attack Maarib and exacerbating dire conditions for already vulnerable, internally displaced Yemenis,” the State Department said.
The Houthis have little motivation to stop the fighting in Maarib until the Saudis offer something new or lift the embargo. Until then, Yemenis living under the blockade will continue to starve.