US President Joe Biden’s administration is hoping for a permanent ceasefire in Yemen following an extension to a truce there.
Tim Lenderking, US special envoy for Yemen, said a window of opportunity is open for a lasting ceasefire as UN-led negotiations continue in Jordan.
“This is the best opportunity Yemen has had for peace,” Mr Lenderking told reporters on Tuesday.
“The conflict parties must not only implement the terms of the current truce, including urgently opening roads to [the city of] Taez, but they must also agree to a permanent ceasefire and begin a comprehensive and inclusive political process.”
The US envoy also issued a warning about an environmental disaster from the rusted oil tanker, the FSO Safer, that has sat off Yemen’s coast since 2015 with 1.1 million barrels of oil.
“Let’s also use this period of relative calm and confidence building to get the ticking time bomb that is the Safer tanker … offloaded on to a safer vessel so we can avert an economic, humanitarian and environmental disaster in the Red Sea,” Mr Lenderking said.
The UN is raising money to unload oil from the vessel and scrap it, fearing it could rupture and leak.
In April, Yemen's warring parties agreed to a two-month truce. It was extended on June 2 and is due to expire on August 2.
Mr Lenderking described the ceasefire as transformational in bringing humanitarian benefits for Yemenis, including the resumption of flights to Sanaa from Cairo and Amman for the first time since 2016.
“I am as I say optimistic as we look at the progress that's been made over the last few months,” he said. “I think it's quite remarkable. At the start of the year, we saw attacks from Yemen into Saudi Arabia and we had the January attacks in the UAE. And things looked very, very dire.”
But for the current calm and those benefits to hold, the US envoy reiterated that the truce needs to be honoured and built upon.
He stressed the need to see movement on Yemen's third city, Taez, which has been under siege by Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2015.
“We ask that the Houthis urgently open roads to Taez,” Mr Lenderking said.
Two meetings for the Taez road committee have taken place recently in Amman, he said, in face-to-face interactions between the warring forces.
“That's positive. We also know that this is a difficult issue,” the US envoy said.
Mr Lenderking, who recently returned from Aden, said Washington supports Yemen’s presidential leadership council that was formed in April.
“We think that the presidential leadership council represents broader representation of Yemenis than we have seen in many years, and provides an opportunity for the government of Yemen to reassert its commitment to peace efforts and to improve basic services and economic stability,” the US senior official said.
When asked about Saudi-Iranian dialogue and its impact on reaching such a truce, Mr Lenderking said he was encouraged by such talks, adding that Washington would like to see more of a “positive role” from the Iranians in Yemen.
“They have not done that. On the contrary, they have fuelled the conflict. They have armed and trained and encourage the Houthis to fire on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries,” he said.