Washington ‘cautiously optimistic’ about renewal of Yemen truce, US envoy says

Tim Lenderking says US would like more ‘constructive engagement’ from Iran in Yemen

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Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen, is “cautiously optimistic” a two-month truce in the nation will be extended and hopes it will lead to a permanent settlement.

Mr Lenderking told The National that extensive intra-Yemen and regional talks were under way to renew the truce that expires on June 2.

“We are cautiously optimistic, but there's a lot of hard work that has to be done over the course of the next two weeks,” he said.

The US envoy described the truce as a possible game-changer in the more than seven-year war.

“There really is a big drop in fighting. No cross-border attacks … the truce provides the best chance that Yemen has had since this conflict began to really turn a corner to end the violence, to move into a political process that allows Yemenis to decide the future of their own country,” he said.

Washington is hoping to capitalise on this by achieving another temporary truce that will ultimately lead to a permanent ceasefire.

“We are we definitely talking about [ending the war] and thinking about it,” Mr Lenderking said.

“The UN is working on a framework that is based on the consultations that they've been hosting over the last two months in Amman.”

But firm commitments from the warring parties, including the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, have to be achieved, he said.

These include an improvement in the humanitarian situation, commercial access to Yemen, a resumption of fuel shipments, the lifting the Houthis’ siege of the south-western city of Taez and resuming flights from the country's airports.

Last week, the first commercial flight in nearly six years took off from the airport in Yemen’s capital Sanaa and landed in Jordan. Egypt is also considering a resumption of flights to Sanaa.

“The flights [from Sanaa] to Cairo, that’s going to be a big development if that happens in the next couple of days,” Mr Lenderking said.

He said the truce was in place because of a sense of war fatigue within Yemen, as well as efforts by regional powers and UN envoy Hans Grundberg.

“This wouldn't happen without countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman supporting this effort and that’s very significant,” he said.

He also discussed Iran's role in welcoming the April 2 ceasefire.

“We'd like to see more of this constructive engagement from Iran because we don't see that inside Yemen,” he said.

Asked if Iran was still working towards keeping the peace in Yemen despite stalled nuclear talks in Vienna, Mr Lenderking said: “That seems to be the case. I don't want to take anything for granted, though, but we have seen the Yemen truce and de-escalation moving forward while the talks in Vienna have been stalled.”

He said he was in close talks with Rob Malley, the US special envoy to Iran, to “compare notes”.

Last week, Yemen marked the 32nd anniversary of its unification, though the war has led many to view the union as a failure.

When asked about fears that the country may split, Mr Lenderking said the US supported Yemen’s “territorial integrity, its unity, but these are issues that the Yemeni people are going to have to agree on”.

“It's Yemenis and not outsiders that are going to determine the future for Yemen," he said.

Mr Lenderking acknowledged that arms are still being smuggled into Yemen despite the truce and said the conflict was fuelling the rise of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS in Yemen.

He said Washington was closely co-ordinating with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on counter-terrorism efforts.

“It's a big problem and we don't have the resources that we really need to put into this particular fight [against smuggling and counter-terrorism],” he said.

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Updated: May 25, 2022, 6:35 AM