Diplomacy on Yemen grinds to halt

US influence over key actors wanes, slowing efforts to find a peaceful resolution.

September 15, 2021 - 2 minute read

3 To Watch:
  1. KSA/Yemen: Continued attacks on KSA territory and waning US influence slow diplomatic efforts to end conflict.
  2. KSA-Iran: Next round of bilateral talks to achieve little – if anything – as positions of both countries remain entrenched.
  3. Oman: Gulf state emerging as credible challenger in green and alternative energy.

Note: This edition of 3 To watch was distributed in full on September 15.

Diplomacy on Yemen grinds to a halt
  • New UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg visited Saudi Arabia last week for talks with officials from both sides of the conflict. Discussions unfolded against the backdrop of continuing missile and drone attacks on Saudi territory, and widespread protests in southern Yemen against deteriorating public services and the depreciating rial.
  • The declaration of a state of emergency and international statements from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, UK and US calling for economic stability have done nothing to stem dissent from local populations in areas held by the Southern Transition Council and the Government of Yemen – and both leaderships are exploiting the unrest for political gain.
  • The diplomatic track to finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict has slowed as the US’ influence over key actors wanes.
Why It Matters:

Events in Afghanistan have heightened anxiety in Saudi Arabia over the future of US security guarantees. Washington’s removal of its most advanced missile defence system and Patriot batteries from the Prince Sultan Air Base, located 70 miles from Riyadh, comes as eight people were wounded and a commercial aeroplane at Abha airport damaged in Houthi drone attacks.

Although rumours had been circulating about the US redeployment, the timing is therefore seen as unfortunate. Despite public statements from US and Saudi officials reiterating close ties, Prince Turki Al Faisal (the former intelligence chief considered close to the Al Saud) said in a recent interview that Saudi Arabia needed reassurance from the US about its commitment to the kingdom’s security. This suggests the alliance is not as strong as the kingdom would like it to be.

While the Saudi cabinet has agreed to continue working with the UN to achieve peace, it has also emphasised its right to defend its borders using all available measures. While the cost of intercepting missiles is high – both financially and reputationally – the kingdom has few other options.

Most strikes are intercepted before causing significant damage; however, a repeat of attacks similar to those on Khurais and Abqaiq is a consistent risk – and may negatively affect investor sentiment. Diplomacy is key, but progress on that front is slow; the Saudis were snubbed by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on a recent trip to the Middle East and a date for the next set of Iranian-Saudi talks is yet to be determined.

Internally, there is no incentive for the Houthis to return to the negotiating table: they are on home turf, inspiring nationalistic support as they fight foreign invaders, and they have the upper hand in control over territory. Unless Grundberg can secure a new UN resolution and lift the Saudi blockade, there is little prospect of change ahead.