Iran-Saudi Rivalry
UN Tries to Tackle “Ticking Bomb” of Yemen

If the overall context weren’t so grim, it could be a scene from some bizarre comedy: talks on achieving peace in Yemen opened yesterday in Geneva, but without the Houthi rebel delegation present. The delegation of Iranian-backed rebels had been held up in Djibouti, and were blaming Egypt for not letting their UN-chartered plane land in Cairo—a charge that Egyptian authorities denied.  When the delegation finally arrived in Geneva early this morning, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had already left back for New York, after having urged both sides to stop the clock on the “ticking bomb” that is Yemen.

But even with the Houthis present, the warring sides are still at some distance in terms of demands—and physical proximity. The New York Times reports:

Such is the gulf dividing the two sides that the consultations are due to start with “proximity talks,” in which the warring factions do not meet face to face but sit in separate rooms as mediators shuttle between them.

Mr. Hadi’s foreign minister, Riyadh Yaseen, told reporters after meeting Mr. Ban that there could be a limited cease-fire, but only after Houthi militias had withdrawn their forces from all Yemen’s cities, halted fighting in the southern city of Aden and other locations, and released their prisoners. “Without this, nothing can happen,” he said.

Mr. Yaseen also ruled out any direct meeting with the Houthi-led delegation. “It is impossible,” he said.

Hadi is said to be very concerned about his rapidly deteriorating negotiating position as the Houthis keep making gains on the ground. And he has good reason to be, as even his patrons seem to be wavering in their support a little. Reuters:

Hadi was installed in 2011 by Saudi Arabia and fellow Gulf countries to replace Saleh after a popular uprising. But, in a highly tribal, factionalized country, he has no real power base of his own. With most of the army still loyal to Saleh, and Saleh supporting the Houthis,

Hadi is now trying rapidly to build his own military force. Yet as voices grow louder in Saudi Arabia suggesting that the air war cannot loosen the Houthis’ control, Hadi’s patron has offered little support for his desire to set up a “safe zone” where he can base that force. […]

Nevertheless, one Yemeni source in Riyadh said Hadi apparently retained the support of those in Saudi Arabia, still in the majority, who believe the war can be won.

Here we get to perhaps the most interesting nugget in the whole story: those who believe the air war can still be effective very probably include the newly anointed Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 29-year-old who is running the war in Yemen, and who has been set up by his father King Salman to run Saudi Arabia’s state oil monopoly, its economic policy, and its ministry of defense. He is now second in line to take the throne.

That the young crown prince may be getting pushback behind closed doors shouldn’t be surprising. That rumors of a fight have leaked out from the notoriously secretive Kingdom to Reuters, however, raises an eyebrow. These rumors also suggest that Saudi Arabia is not likely to let up on its bombing campaign until some kind of “victory” can be declared. A lasting peace, is, alas, probably not at hand.

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