As the war in Yemen continues to rage, the UN envoy for Yemen says he’s “frustrated” by the lack of progress towards a ceasefire.
“Nobody can be more frustrated than I am,” said UN envoy Martin Griffiths on Monday. “We have spent a year and a half on things which are relatively simple to describe, the ceasefire, the opening of Sanaa airport, the opening of Hodeidah ports, the much-delayed start of the political negotiations.”
Saudi Arabia has refused to lift the blockade on Yemen, which is a key Houthi condition for a ceasefire. The Houthis, as well as international aid organizations, are calling on Riyadh to separate the blockade from the peace talks and not use the suffering of Yemenis as leverage.
In February, four UN agencies released a report that said 400,000 Yemeni children under five will starve to death in 2021 if conditions don’t change. Almost three months later, the Biden administration refuses to pressure Riyadh into lifting the blockade. The US is also still servicing Saudi warplanes that are bombing Yemen despite President Biden’s promises to end support for Saudi Arabia’s “offensive” operations in Yemen.
Without US backing, Saudi Arabia would be forced to give more concessions to the Houthis. The latest ceasefire proposal from Riyadh offered a partial opening of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah and the Sanaa airport but stopped short of completely lifting the embargo. Last week, Mohammed Abdulsalam, the top Houthi negotiator, said what the Saudis are offering is “nothing new.” He said the opening of airports and seaports is a “humanitarian right” and shouldn’t be used by Riyadh as a “pressure tool.”
Griffiths blamed the lack of progress on the ongoing fighting in several parts of Yemen. “We have been negotiating this in detail. … Sometimes we make good progress, and we think that it’s going to work, that we will get an agreement. And then the war intervenes and one or other party thinks they will gain more in the battlefield,” he said.
Fighting has been raging in Yemen’s Maarib province, where the only significant territory controlled by the Saudi-backed government is located. The Houthis have been on a months-long offensive in the area, which the US blames for the stalled peace efforts. If not for Saudi airpower, the Houthis would have likely won the battle already. Last week, a source from the Saudi-backed Yemeni government told China’s Xinhua that 31 Houthi fighters were killed by Saudi airstrikes in one day of fighting.