Iran agrees to stop arming Houthis in Yemen in deal with KSA
Iran has agreed to stop sending weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of a China-brokered deal with Saudi Arabia, U.S. and Saudi officials said.
The Wall Street Journal, an American daily, quoted Thursday U.S. and Saudi officials as saying that if Tehran does stop arming the Houthis, it could put pressure on the militant group to reach a deal to end the conflict.
The Iran-Saudi relationship has been historically fraught and shadowed by a sectarian divide and fierce competition in the region. Diplomatic relations were severed in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Protesters in Tehran stormed the Saudi Embassy and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed “divine revenge” for al-Nimr’s execution.
Iran-allied Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition armed with U.S. weaponry and intelligence entered the war on the side of Yemen’s exiled government in 2015.
Years of inconclusive fighting created a humanitarian disaster and pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. Overall, the war has killed more than 150,000 people, including over 14,500 civilians, according to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
A six-month cease-fire, the longest of the Yemen conflict, expired in October, but finding a permanent peace is among the administration's highest priorities in the Middle East. U.S. special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking is visiting Saudi Arabia and Oman this week to try to build on the U.N.-mediated truce that has brought a measure of calm to Yemen in recent months, according to the State Department.
Beijing swooped in on the Iran-Saudi talks at a moment when the fruit was already “ripening on the vine,” according to one of six senior administration officials who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private White House deliberations. The Iran-Saudi announcement coincided with Chinese leader Xi Jinping being awarded a third five-year term as the nation’s president.
The official added that if China can play a "reinforcing role” in ending hostilities in Yemen the administration would view that as a good thing. But both the White House and Saudi officials remain deeply skeptical of Iran's intentions in the Yemen war or more broadly acting as a stabilizing force in the region.
To date, China, which has a seat on the U.N. Security Council, has shown little interest in the Yemen conflict, Syria, or the Israeli-Palestinian situation, according to administration officials. Yet, Xi this week called for China to play a bigger role in managing global affairs after Beijing scored a diplomatic coup with the Iran-Saudi agreement.