Saudi Arabia Offers Yemen Ceasefire Weeks After Joe Biden Pulled Plug on U.S. Support

Saudi Arabia has offered the Yemeni Houthi group a new ceasefire deal that could, if accepted, end almost six years of war that has killed more than 233,000 people.

The plan, announced Monday by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, would also reopen Yemen's Sana'a airport, the Associated Press reported.

The airport has been closed since March 2015 due to the Saudi no-fly zone and has been bombed by Saudi warplanes. Its reopening has been a key demand for Houthi negotiators in past failed talks.

The latest ceasefire proposal comes weeks after President Joe Biden announced the end of U.S. logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which Riyadh is fighting on behalf of the Yemeni government deposed by the Houthi uprising in late 2014.

The combination of the Saudi-led coalition's punishing air campaign and the Houthis' own actions have created a dire humanitarian crisis in the country, with millions in danger of starvation.

Biden said the U.S. would no longer support Saudi-led operations, though would continue to defend Saudi territory from Houthi cross-border attacks. The Iran-backed Houthis have intensified drone and ballistic missile strikes against Saudi targets in recent weeks, particularly key oil infrastructure belonging to the state-owned Aramco company.

Last week, Houthi missiles and drones hit several Aramco sites, prompting a series of retaliatory airstrikes by Saudi warplanes against targets in Sana'a. Saudi planes also attacked Houthi positions around the city of Ma'rib, where recent weeks have seen Houthi forces intensify their effort to capture the town.

Past peace efforts have failed, and the latest Saudi offer comes amid intensifying cross-border violence. Farhan told journalists at a press conference in Riyadh: "It is up to the Houthis now...The Houthis must decide whether to put their interests first or Iran's interests first."

Farhan said the plan would be communicated to the Houthis and Yemen's internationally recognized government on Monday, both of whom would need to accept the proposal for it to move forward in step with a timeline likely decided by U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, AP reported.

The Saudi regime-owned Arab News reported that the internationally recognized Yemeni government welcomed the plan on Monday, meaning its adoption will now hinge on the Houthi response.

The re-opening of Sana'a airport is a key Saudi concession in the new plan. Another is that fees generated by Yemen's Hodeida port will be paid into a joint account at Yemen's Central Bank to be accessed by both the Houthis and the deposed Yemeni government. These funds can be used to pay civil servants and support other programs, AP said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted Monday that he had spoken with Farhan before the announcement. The foreign ministers discussed "our work together to end the conflict in Yemen, facilitate humanitarian access and aid for the Yemeni people, and defend the Kingdom from external threats," Blinken wrote. "Also discussed the need for continued progress on human rights."

A separate statement from State Department spokesperson Ned Price added that Blinken "reiterated our commitment to supporting the defense of Saudi Arabia and strongly condemned recent attacks against Saudi territory from Iranian-aligned groups in the region," referring to the Houthis.

"The secretary and the foreign minister discussed their close cooperation to support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Griffiths and U.S. Special Envoy Lenderking to end the conflict in Yemen, starting with the need for all parties to commit to a ceasefire and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid," Price said.

"Additionally, they discussed the importance of stabilizing the Yemeni economy. The secretary underscored the importance of continued progress on human rights and expressed support for Saudi Arabia's ongoing social and economic reforms."

Forces loyal to Saudi-backed government in Yemen
Forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government enter the Abs district of the northwestern Hajjah province on March 11, 2021. Saudi Arabia has offered a ceasefire weeks after President Joe Biden pulled U.S. support for the Kingdom in the war. AFP via Getty Images