Biden’s Decisions Related to Yemen: Is it a Step Towards Peace or Unforced Concessions to Iran?
“This war has to end…. we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”
These were the words of Biden in his first presidential foreign policy address in the State Department on Thursday, last week. The President is ending US support for – what he considered- “offensive operations “of Saudi Arabia in Yemen and ceasing the relevant arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This address was followed by an announcement on Friday night by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken to revoke the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthi rebels as a "foreign terrorist organization," a label which critics had warned could hinder the deliverance of humanitarian aid to areas under the rebels’ control.
Those decisions were parallel to the naming of a US special envoy to Yemen -Timothy A. Lenderking- to end the war in Yemen and to put more pressure on the Saudis and Emiratis to make peace in Yemen.
On Saturday, Iran hailed the Biden administration’s decision to halt support for offensive operations in Yemen.
Reviewing the timing of those decisions and connect it to Iran, it is found that those decisions came at a critical time for the US. Biden must make these decisions because the time is running out for the US due to the Iranian parliament bill. In December, the Iranian parliament passed a bill urging the US to ease the sanctions before ramping up its uranium enrichment further. The Iranian parliament gives a two-month deadline- due in February 2021- for the US to do so. This can explain the immediate attention of Biden and why he considers these decisions as a critical priority.
The question that arises is "are these decisions for stopping the war in Yemen or are they to be considered as unforced concessions to Iran to consume the time before ramping up its uranium enrichment further?"
The answer to this question is debatable. The opinions are divided into three divisions. First, some think that this is a bad move by Biden, and they consider his decisions as unforced concessions to Iran rather than reversing President Trump’s strategy on Yemen. By doing this, Biden put himself in a place where Iran wants him, and the only losers are the Yemeni people who were and still are victims of a proxy war between Iran and the Gulf Arabs.
Second, this team is described as an optimistic team, they believe that Biden’s move is a distinctive shift in Washington’s foreign policy towards the conflict in Yemen by finding diplomatic solutions to the war there. This team welcomes Biden’s announcement. Consequently, this team considers Biden’s appointment of a special envoy to Yemen as an important move to bring peace to Yemen.
The third team argues that Biden’s decisions are to be considered as a pledge to end the war in Yemen. However, ending the offensive operations of Saudi Arabia and UAE will not stop the war, but it rather will send a stark warning to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to find their ways to end this war, which is considered to be a huge challenge.
Some may think that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the reason why Biden takes those two decisions. They justify their argument based on a claim that Democrats are known for their caring about human rights. They consider this to be a reason why Biden decides to remove Houthis from the terrorist list.
Obviously, the designation would not affect the Houthis in a practical way, but it certainly would stop the food and the critical aid from reaching the civilians in the areas controlled by Houthis. Additionally, designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization would block the peace negotiations.
Indeed, the two decisions Biden took are a form of spinning or propaganda. It is clear that Biden has decided to send a spin message to Iran at this critical time. However, this is not to say that he does not mean to end the war in Yemen. His decision is considered to be underscoring the commitment of the Washington policy circles to end the war in Yemen. His speech paves the way for an appropriate and neutral international mediator to be involved in resolving the Yemeni conflict. Biden declared his position toward the Iran Nuclear Deal in his election campaign. Biden campaigned on re-joining the deal, describing it as a key tool to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program. However, he asserts that Iran must return to its part of the deal for negotiations to start on a broader deal. Conversely, Iran has insisted that sanctions be lifted before any changes are made to its stockpile.
This is not to say that Biden’s decision related to ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen is not a significant move to send a clear signal to Saudi Arabia and UAE that the US will adopt a new approach in Yemen. The US seems to intend to change its course in Yemen. The US is aware of the failure of the war strategy that it had adopted it in 2015. The strategic failure is clear both in the humanitarian catastrophe that the Yemenis lived through and, in the case of the Houthis, advance and be in charge of most of the country. All this can prove that time is running out and the US needs to restore its diplomacy. This contributes to offering a chance for peacebuilding in Yemen. But maybe it will be a peace which is not made by Americans themselves but one which they would give the green light for.
In the end, it is clear that the US will call for peace in Yemen, a peace where the US considers the Houthi as a constant in the peace equation in Yemen which is considered to be unforced concessions to Iran.
Generally speaking, whatever the motivation of the US in Yemen, the most important thing is to bring peace to the Yemeni children and to Yemen as a whole. It is the responsibility of the US and the whole regional and international community to take efforts to stop the war in Yemen and get it on its feet again. They should work on bringing an immediate ceasefire in Yemen, granting more humanitarian aid to the Yemenis, and achieving an effective peace agreement which is based on justice for all the parties in Yemen.