Diplomatic efforts to broker a peace in Yemen accelerated after Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations last week, the UN special envoy Hans Grundberg has reported to the Security Council.
“Intense diplomatic efforts are ongoing at different levels to bring the conflict in Yemen to an end,” Grundberg said on Wednesday, after returning from Tehran and Riyadh. “We are currently witnessing renewed regional diplomatic momentum, as well as a step change in the scope and depth of the discussions.”
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Iran has reportedly agreed to stop supplying weapons to the Houthis of Yemen, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing anonymous US and Saudi officials. Tehran has officially denied sending weapons to the Houthis, and the Iranian mission at the UN declined to comment on the claim.
The Houthis are Shia Muslims, just like the Iranians, while the Saudis follow the Salafist branch of Sunni Islam. The US has backed Riyadh’s military involvement in Yemen, labeling the Houthis “Iranian proxies,” which both Tehran and the government in Sanaa have denied.
Last Friday, however, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced they had reached an agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations – which Riyadh severed in 2016 – and work to improve “regional and international peace and security.” The deal itself, as well as China’s role as the mediator, have been widely interpreted as a blow to US influence in the Persian Gulf.
On Sunday, the Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted government officials saying that the deal would help revive a ceasefire, “help start a national dialogue, and form an inclusive national government in Yemen.”
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Saudi Arabia and several of its allies began bombing Yemen in March 2015, eventually deploying ground troops to fight against the Houthis, who had overthrown a pro-Saudi president. A tentative ceasefire reached last March officially expired in October, but large-scale hostilities have not resumed.
The UN estimates the years-long conflict in Yemen has claimed at least 377,000 lives, of which 150,000 were due to violence and the rest from starvation and disease. About four million people have been displaced.