The Irish Times view on the war in Yemen: Joe Biden’s first foreign move

The US is determined to reset its relationship with the Saudis, who were strongly supported by Trump but have been described as a “pariah” state by Joe Biden

A Yemeni schoolchild arrives at a school to resume the second term of classes in Sana’a, Yemen on Monday. According to Yemen’s education ministry, some five million Yemeni students attend school across the war-torn country while over half a million school-age children do not get to go to school since the fighting broke out in 2015. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/ EPA

A Yemeni schoolchild arrives at a school to resume the second term of classes in Sana’a, Yemen on Monday. According to Yemen’s education ministry, some five million Yemeni students attend school across the war-torn country while over half a million school-age children do not get to go to school since the fighting broke out in 2015. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/ EPA

 

The Biden administration’s decision to end its support for Saudi and UAE military activities in war-torn Yemen, and to reverse Donald Trump’s designation of Houthi rebels as terrorists, are important steps to de-escalating this most bloody of conflicts. Crucially it may enable a resumption of humanitarian aid to famine victims. The UN says the conflict is the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis, with millions on the brink of starvation.

Washington’s renewed emphasis on diplomacy and the UN’s peace efforts are welcome, but the prospects for even a ceasefire remain gloomy – the Saudis and their mixed bag of warring internal allies remain well-armed and show little inclination to resume talks. The Iran-backed Houthis, who control the capital Sana’a and the populous north, have recommenced attacks despite US appeals for restraint. While reducing arms support to one side could make the US more able to push for a settlement of the “big war”, the country’s many little wars remain largely intractable.

The US is determined to reset its relationship with the Saudis, who were strongly supported by Trump but have been described as a “pariah” state by Joe Biden following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. He has also accused them of “going in and murdering children” – with US-supplied weapons – in their bombing campaigns in Yemen. But Washington has promised to continue to help the kingdom defend itself from missile and drone attacks from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries, including Yemen. And the US will continue operations against al-Qaeda-linked forces inside the latter.

Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis seized Sana’a and began a march south to try to seize the entire country. Saudi Arabia, with the UAE and others, entered the war alongside Yemen’s internationally recognised government in 2015. To date some 130,000 are feared to have died in the conflict in which starving and cholera-blighted civilians have not been spared and much of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed.

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