Crisis Group: Can the Kuwait peace talks break Yemen’s deadlock?

Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula, April Longley Alley, explains in a Q&A why she is cautiously hopeful that this week’s negotiations in Kuwait may see the return of a political process to Yemen. According to Alley, both parties to the war are facing increased pressure to end the conflict. The Houthis have been pushed back on several fronts and are encountering serious economic challenges, making them more open to negotiations. Meanwhile, the Saudis are facing both a tightened budget and pressure from the international community and humanitarian rights organizations to end the war.

What we can say for sure is that this is the best chance that Yemen has had since the beginning of the war to return to a political process. For the first time, the two protagonists with the capacity to end major combat, the Houthis and the Saudis, seem more willing than ever to do so.

Despite the clear advantages of ending the conflict, there are many potential spoilers to a deal. The ongoing ceasefire, which began on midnight on April 11, was quickly violated by both parties, although it is still holding better than previous ceasefires.

Furthermore, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi both pose threats to the peace process. Saleh, who has consistently been excluded from talks with the Saudis despite his allegiance with the Houthis, is likely to be a spoiler for current negotiations. Hadi, meanwhile, insists on fully implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which would unrealistically require the Houthis to disarm and withdraw from all seized territory.

As it stands, the ongoing talks in Kuwait do not represent all Yemeni factions relevant to the conflict. As Alley explains, the talks would need to be broadened to ensure an extended ceasefire and resolve political issues such as the timing of elections, transitional justice and state structure.

Of the five focus points of the negotiations outlined by the UN, the most critical, according to Alley, is an agreement on mutually acceptable interim security arrangements, which could provide an environment that facilitates the return of a government.

This opportunity to end the war in Yemen and find a political resolution cannot be missed, say Alley.

“If this chance is not seized, we might be back to a situation where Yemen is off the radar again...with continuing devastating consequences for the civilian population.”