Saudis propose ceasefire in Yemen

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia is offering Yemen’s Houthi rebels a countrywide ceasefire and other steps as part of a proposal to bring an end to the war in Yemen, the country’s foreign minister said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud outlined what he called an “initiative” for peace as Houthi forces press an offensive on the strategic town of Marib and after weeks of drone and missile attacks on Saudi territory by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

The Saudi proposal called for “a comprehensive ceasefire across the country under the supervision of the United Nations,” according to the statement.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks in Riyadh on March 22, 2021.Ahmed Yosri / Reuters

It also proposed the “reopening of Sanaa International Airport to a number of direct regional and international destinations.”

The initiative envisions “consultations between the Yemeni parties to reach a political resolution to the Yemeni crisis under the auspices of the United Nations,” the statement said.

The Saudi initiative appears similar to a proposal supported by U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking. The American envoy recently returned from an extensive trip to the region and said that a “sound” proposal for a ceasefire had been presented to the Houthi forces but that the rebels appeared more focused on pursuing a military offensive on Marib.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Saudi counterpart on Monday, the State Department said.

“The secretary and the foreign minister discussed their close cooperation to support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Griffiths and U.S. Special Envoy Lenderking to end the conflict in Yemen, starting with the need for all parties to commit to a ceasefire and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid,” the State Department said.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have ramped up drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia over the past month, employing increasingly sophisticated drones and missiles to hit targets across the kingdom’s territory, NBC News previously reported.

Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said the question now is whether the Houthis are prepared to lay down their arms and come to the negotiating table.

“From their recent statements, the risk is that the Houthis believe that their recent attacks in Marib and across the border into Saudi Arabia are bringing them closer to a military victory,” he said.

“If that’s the case, they may interpret the Saudi offer as evidence of weakness rather than a serious bid to end the conflict and reach a political accord.”

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