US balances diplomacy, military strikes in Yemen

  • Market: Crude oil, Natural gas
  • 06/02/24

The US administration is combining military strikes in Yemen with appeals to the Houthi militants through regional mediators to stop attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

"We're very determined to put pressure on the Houthis to de-escalate," State Department's Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking said today. "The sooner we get de-escalation in the Red Sea, the sooner the international community could refocus on the vital issue of peace in Yemen." Lenderking was addressing a discussion held by Washington think tank the Middle East Institute, ahead of a trip to Oman and other Mideast Gulf countries. Oman is a key intermediary in the US' interactions with the Houthi group.

President Joe Biden three years ago tasked Lenderking to negotiate an end to the Yemen civil war. The US mediation has been successful in getting Saudi Arabia and the UAE to end their involvement in the war while Yemeni political actors backed by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have maintained a ceasefire with the Houthi militants.

But "October 7, of course, has thrown all of this into terrible turmoil and uncertainty, along with other lines of effort that the US was working on in the Middle East," Lenderking said, referring to the outbreak of the Hamas-Israel conflict in Gaza.

Attacks against vessels in the Red Sea have prompted major shippers to divert cargo traffic away from the region and have lifted insurance and freight rates. The Houthis originally said they would only target those vessels that are linked to Israel but have more recently begun targeting US and UK targets in response to US- and UK-led air strikes against targets in Yemen that began last month.

The US messaging through regional meetings and other mediators includes pointing out to the Houthis that their actions would jeopardize their hard-won position in Yemen, Lenderking said.

The UN-backed plan for rebuilding Yemen is on pause because "there's no way that any country would support salary payments, for example, to people in Houthi-controlled areas when the Houthis are using every resource that they can to attack international shipping," he said.

The Saudi-backed Presidential Leadership Council and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council have refrained from taking any action against the Houthis after the US strikes. But "the longer this drags out, the more this tempts miscreants or other forces inside Yemen to perhaps take matters into their own hands" in opposition to the Houthis, Lenderking said.

The Houthis have shown willingness to "have skin in the game" by abiding to the ceasefire since April 2022 and "why would they want to throw all that away?" The UN, regional mediators and other countries have all been working "to try and find a climb down for the Houthis that would enable this situation to improve," which, he said, would also end US air strikes.

Many US military and national security officials have commonly portrayed the Houthi militants as agents of Tehran, but Lenderking today offered a more nuanced view.

"The sense we have is, overwhelmingly, that Iran is pushing on an open door here with the Houthis," by providing weapons and intelligence to target ships, Lenderking said. Iran has supported efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Yemen's civil war, but "what they're doing now is the opposite."

US efforts to de-escalate the crisis in the Red Sea also depends on broader diplomacy to end conflict in Gaza, Lenderking said. "You can't escape a trip to the region without having a Gaza conversation."


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La deuda de Pemex sobresale en el panorama electoral

La deuda de Pemex sobresale en el panorama electoral

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