On Friday, September 15th, Saudi and Houthi counterparts participated in ceasefire talks in Riyadh, under the mediation of Omani envoys. Though Saudi and Houthi parties have participated in negotiations since April, this marks the first official visit by Houthi representatives to Saudi Arabia since war broke out in Yemen in 2014. The discussion evaluated a long-term political solution in Yemen, as well as matters such as the salaries of Yemeni public employees and the opening of Yemen’s airports and ports.
Regional sources report on the Houthi-Saudi engagement:
The Times of Israel explains that, on Thursday, September 14, “an Omani plane carrying a 10-strong Houthi delegation and five officials from mediator Oman headed towards the Saudi capital for what a Houthi government official said would be a five-day visit.” These peace talks, “announced only hours earlier, come five months after Saudi officials held discussions in Sanaa, and as a UN-brokered ceasefire largely holds despite officially lapsing last October.”
Al Arabiya reports Saudi Arabia’s hopes to “reach a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen and a sustainable political solution acceptable to all Yemeni parties.” The Riyadh-based news outlet further analyzed: “The peace initiatives have gained momentum since arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to re-establish ties… A permanent ceasefire in Yemen would mark a milestone in stabilizing the Middle East.”
Oman has maintained its “‘constructive’ and ‘proactive’ role in creating a sustainable environment for peace and security in the region, according to H E Sayyid Badr al Busaidi, Foreign Minister.” During earlier phases of peace talks, Muscat Daily quoted the minister’s description of direct talks between the Saudis and the Houthis as “the ‘first step’ in ending the country’s long-running conflict."
Beyond a political solution, Arab News notes that the Houthis “demands include payment of their civil servants salaries by the displaced Yemeni government, and the launch of new destinations from Sanaa airport, which was closed until last year when commercial flights resumed to Jordan and Egypt.”
In June, Anadolu Agency reported a temporary halt in talks due to disagreements regarding civil servant salaries. Specifically, the Houthis expressed concern that “nearly 500,000 civil servants living in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen have had their salaries cut for years due to the war in the country and the split of the Central Bank.” Head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi al-Mashat, indicated that “Riyadh was asked to pay civil servants' salaries from Yemen's oil and gas revenues.”
Writing for the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, expert Maged al-Madhaji says that protests in Yemen over the unpaid salaries “have become a real concern for (the Houthis)”. As it stands, “Saudi Arabia is now expected to pay salaries to all current public employees in Yemen for a period of six months,” with the issue of future revenues for salary payment funds being negotiated by the UN.
Concerns have been raised regarding the talk’s limited participants. London-based Yemen analyst Baraa Shiban told Al-Jazeera that the Saudi strategy to these negotiations reflects “a repetition of what the US did with the Taliban [in Afghanistan] – negotiating with one party to end the conflict rather than with all political factions.” Shiban continued: “This is self-defeating in the long run and many Yemenis fear it will end in total collapse.”
In contrast, the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) covered the U.S. perspective on these developments, quoting U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan: “We commend the leadership of Saudi Arabia for this current initiative and thank the leadership of Oman for its important role… We call on all parties to this terrible conflict to further solidify and expand on the benefits of the truce that has brought a measure of peace to the Yemeni people, and ultimately bring this war to an end.”