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WASHINGTON: Iran has agreed to halt covert weapons shipments to its Houthi allies in Yemen as part of a China-brokered deal to re-establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
This “move could inject new momentum into efforts to end one of the region’s longest-running civil wars”, said the newspaper while commenting on the development.
For years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed opposing sides in the Yemen conflict, fueling a war that has had disastrous humanitarian consequences and spilled beyond the country’s borders.
US and Saudi officials, who spoke to WSJ, said if Tehran stopped arming the Houthis, it “could put pressure on the militant group to reach a deal to end the conflict”.
A spokesman for the Iranian delegation to the United Nations declined to comment when WSJ asked whether Tehran would suspend arms shipments. Tehran publicly denies that it supplies the Houthis with weapons.
Last week, Saudi Arabia and Iran signed a China-backed agreement to re-establish diplomatic ties seven years after they were severed. This prompted speculations that Iran would now press the Houthis to end attacks on Saudi Arabia.
One Saudi official told WSJ that the kingdom expects Iran to respect a UN arms embargo meant to prevent weapons from reaching the Houthis. “A cutoff of weapons supplies could make it harder for the militants to strike the kingdom and seize more ground in Yemen,” WSJ commented.
Hans Grundberg, the special UN envoy for Yemen, flew to Tehran earlier this week to discuss Iran’s role in ending the war, and then on to Riyadh. Tim Lenderking, the special US envoy for Yemen, met Saudi officials in Riyadh on Wednesday to make another attempt to reinvigorate stalled peace talks.
The top priority is to extend a cease-fire that has held in Yemen for nearly a year. The formal truce expired in October, but the rival factions have continued to largely honour the cease-fire. Diplomats want a new deal on extending the cease-fire before the start of Ramadan next week.
More than 150,000 people have died as a direct result of the war. Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, fueling calls for the US and its allies to cut off military support to Riyadh.
In the past three months, the US military and its allies have claimed seizing four ships off the Yemen coast carrying more than 5,000 assault rifles, 1.6 million rounds of ammunition, dozens of antitank missiles, and fertilizer, which can be used to make explosives.
Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2023
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