Wanted: Patient Diplomacy in Yemen

Wanted: Patient Diplomacy in Yemen

By Gordon Gray and Brian Katulis

Recent Congressional debates about the Yemen war have put a high priority on imposing costs on the Saudi-led military coalition by restricting arms sales and military cooperation. Moreover, this past week’s vote in the U.S. Senate is just the latest in a series of Congressional actions sending a message of disapproval about the Trump administration’s military policy in Yemen. But that’s only one aspect of a deeper policy discussion that needs to emphasize diplomacy.  

To get serious about peace in Yemen, we need to examine all of the measures needed to help Yemenis achieve lasting stability.

We recently visited Oman to understand the role that the small Sultanate plays in trying to de-escalate regional tensions and bridge divides within Yemen. Renewed, robust U.S. efforts—working with Oman and other partners—to resolve the conflict and the humanitarian crisis would promote U.S. values and national security interests in this strategic crossroad.  

On the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula—bordering Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—Oman’s guiding philosophy is to build positive ties with all its neighbors and leading global powers. This approach has become increasingly difficult to maintain in a hyper-polarized Middle East dominated by powerful neighbors acting assertively to deal with the threats and challenges they see.

In Muscat, we met several senior Omani officials involved in supporting the efforts to resolve Yemen’s conflict through diplomacy led by United Nations’ envoy Martin Griffiths. They made clear their determination to help broker a solution. As one senior Omani official described his country’s foreign policy approach to us, “We don’t interfere, but we solve.”  

The United States has relied on Oman’s knowledge of the internal political and social dynamics in Yemen to deal with specific challenges, such as gaining the release of American hostages and evacuating personnel from the U.S. embassy in Sanaa. Now Oman is playing a quiet but important role by seeking to shape the calculus of one key party to Yemen’s conflict, the Houthis, and bring them to the negotiating table.

In a separate meeting with key Houthi leaders who have represented the movement at recent international negotiations to end the conflict, we experienced how difficult it will be to negotiate peace in Yemen. We heard firsthand in private conversations, a Houthi ideology informed by the ugly anti-Semitic and anti-American ideas expressed in their public slogan, and it remains unclear how much control the voices seated at diplomatic tables have over the forces on the ground.

You can read the full analysis at The National Interest here.

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