Saudi Arabia and its adversaries in Yemen’s armed Houthi movement are holding secret talks to try to end a three-year-old war that has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, diplomats and Yemeni political sources said.
A Saudi-led coalition is fighting to counter the influence of Riyadh’s arch-foe Iran, an ally of the Houthis, who deny any help from Tehran and say they are fighting a revolution against corrupt politicians and Gulf powers in thrall to the West.
Speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, two diplomats and two Yemeni officials said the Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam had been in direct communication with Saudi officials in Oman on a comprehensive solution to the conflict.
“There are consultations between the Houthis and the Saudis, without a representative of the internationally recognised government, and it is clear that there is a desire of the Houthis and the coalition to go towards a comprehensive agreement,” one diplomat told Reuters.
A coalition official denied that Saudi Arabia had any negotiations with the Houthis, and reaffirmed support, in a statement to Reuters, for U.N. peace efforts aimed at reaching a political solution. Houthi officials did not provide an official comment.
Hailing from Yemen’s Zaydi Shi’ite sect, the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and drove the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into Saudi exile.
Fearing the advance was part of a regional power grab by Tehran, Riyadh and other mostly Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states armed and supported by the United States and Britain intervened to restore his rule.
The hoped-for accord would begin with a truce to pause fighting on nationwide battlefronts and culminate in the signing of a peace deal addressing the political interests of the warring parties, the sources added.
Thousands of Saudi-led air strikes have killed hundreds of Yemeni civilians, while Houthi-led cross-border rocket attacks on Saudi Arabia have led to hundreds of casualties. Coalition forces have made modest territorial gains but appear far from seizing back the capital from seasoned Houthi fighters.
With no victory in sight, and as the war pushes the country towards famine, Saudi officials including the powerful crown prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman have expressed a desire to wrap up the conflict.
Read full article by Mohammed Ghobari and Noah Browning on Reuters, March 15, 2018.