According to two Wall Street Journal correspondents, Laurence Norman in Brussels and Sune Engel Rassmussen in London, time is of the essence and would make it possible to:
- revive a dialogue between Washington and Tehran on core issues vital to easing Gulf area tensions and curbing the potential use of nuclear weapons as the Yemen civil war enters its eighth year.
- build on fresh diplomacy in early March that appeared to support a renewed start in dealing with a crisis that has been a vital concern in many capitals around the globe. (The U.S., under the previous Trump administration, had withdrawn from a 2015 deal that had aimed at easing the crisis).
Some possible early signals
On March 4, Britain, France and Germany decided NOT to present a resolution censuring Iran that they had floated to other International Atomic Energy member states a few days earlier.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Tehran had responded to the Europeans that such a move could lead Iran to further curtail international inspections of its nuclear capabilities, and “dissuade it from engaging in direct talks with the U.S. on its nuclear program”.
Moreover, also on March 4, a London-based think tank, the Middle East Eye, reported that a tiny neutral Arabian peninsula sultanate of Oman might be a catalyst for serious peace talks between the warring factions in Yemen.
Oman borders Yemen to the east, but has maintained good ties over the years with the Houthis, Iran-allied rebels in northern and western Yemen. Recent estimates are that the Houthis occupy 70 percent of the country in a civil war that has now cost an estimated 115,000 lives — including tens of thousands of citizens who died of starvation.
There are several indicators of a renewed international awareness that there is an urgent need for solving the horrific Yemen conflict. Among them: an appeal by Pope Francis during his first-ever papal trip to Iraq that there’s no time to waste for the two principal Gulf powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to ease tensions. According to a Washington Post report from Baghdad on March 6, the Pontiff pleaded for global cooperation to bring an end to the Yemen civil war, widely termed as “the world’s most deadly humanitarian crisis.”
As Pope Francis put it on arriving in the Iraqi capital that day: “I come as a pilgrim for peace.” The Pope’s four-day visit is his first international trip since the outbreak of the pandemic 16 months ago. He had scheduled meetings with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, known internationally as the pre-eminent figure in Shiite Islam and Iraq’s leading religious authority.
Setting the stage for a carefully-calibrated approach to the horrific violence in Yemen, President Biden had announced three weeks earlier that he was ending U.S. support for offensive military operations there, including those of its Saudi allies.
According to United Press International, Washington also is revoking its designation of the Houthi rebels as terrorists. The reasoning, UPI reported, was that sanctions against the Houthis would be counterproductive at this stage of easing tensions. Starving Yemeni civilians must have life-saving food supplies to access basic needs for their survival such as food and fuel. Support for such relief by all the warring parties is essential.
All major international and regional actors in the Yemen civil war must recognize the dangers posed by this seemingly endless conflict, as Oman —a neutral party in the region — already has. Its diplomats are working around the clock to persuade all sides (including the Houthis) to pause and resolve what is one of the world’s most dangerous international crises to a speedy conclusion.
Decisively ending years of suffering in the world’s most devastating civil conflict is long overdue.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More