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US pushes Saudis to buy off pesky Houthis

Muhammad Amin

The US is pushing Saudi Arabia  to woo Yemen, giving Riyadh “an informal green light” to try to revive a peace deal with the Houthis, as it struggles to find a way to combat the poorest nation in the world.

The Guardian says “determination to keep Saudi Arabia engaged in a peace process with israel” is driving its bid to patch up things with the Houthis who have continued attacking shipping in the Red Sea despite everything Uncle Sam has thrown at them.

The Yemen-based rebels have been attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea since November in support of Palestine.

The proposed Yemen UN roadmap for peace was released in early December but stalled as the Houthis escalated their attacks.

The campaign has led to a dramatic fall in maritime trade through the Red Sea and a surge in insurance costs. The Houthis claim to have hit 112 ships in the area so far.

The US and UK have targeted Houthi mobile missile sites, to little avail. Last week the Houthis said they planned to expand their attacks, and sea traffic volumes remain half of those in the same period of last year.

Now Saudi Arabia appears to want to press ahead with its US roadmap, and is unwrapping the dollars in a bid to buy off the Houthis. Riyadh is also offering them a permanent place in a proposed national unity government.

The previous UN roadmap included bulk payments to the Houthis to compensate for unpaid public salaries, but the deal has never been presented to the competing Saudi-backed government.

The Guardian says “It appears that the Saudis, sensing a military stalemate between the US Navy and the Houthis, are impatient to end their engagement in Yemen, even if it leaves the Saudi-backed Aden government as perceived losers in the process.”

“The US appears to be more amenable to the Saudis’ impatience for a Yemen deal, and Washington needs Saudi support to end the conflict in Gaza, opening a diplomatic space for the US to persuade the Saudis to agree a defence pact with the US and to normalise relations with Israel, moves that might in turn weaken Iran’s influence in the region. Washington has floated incentives to persuade the Houthis to stop the attacks including the acceleration of the roadmap talks and lifting restrictions on Houthi trade.”

Negotiators acknowledged to the Guardian that the Iranian-backed Houthis had “enjoyed a short-term rise in popularity due to their attacks on Red Sea shipping” but said this bubble was bursting as ordinary Yemenis saw the impact on Yemen’s economy.

But they admitted: “We are in a dire situation since the oil exports on which the south’s economy is based are not being transported. The Houthis are saying they can go ahead with the roadmap and yet they can continue shooting at ships in the Red Sea. How can we reach an agreement with a group that is committing acts of terrorism in the Red Sea and wants to take over Yemen?”

Up to 17 million people in Yemen are dependent on humanitarian aid. Only $792m of the $2.7bn called for in Yemen’s 2024 UN humanitarian response plan has been raised.

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