The Houthis have negotiated with Riyad for more than a year toward ending the conflict, but have continued to launch drone and missile attacks into neighboring Saudi Arabia. With US and other Western support, Riyadh has led a multinational coalition to fight the Houthis and prop up the Yemeni government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The Shiite rebels have ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has exported advanced Iranian missile technology in recent years to conflict zones in the Middle East to gain an edge over Tehran’s rivals.
The UAE has been a major player in the Gulf coalition, but began pulling troops from Yemen in 2019. Riyadh has also sought a way out of the conflict, but obstacles to consolidating a unified Yemeni government have until recently hindered progress.
The Biden administration revoked a late Trump-era terror designation for the Houthis last month in a bid to jump-start peace talks, but so far there is no sign that Lenderking’s initial meeting had much success. Details of the talks have not been publicly released.
A State Department spokesperson told Reuters the administration will “not be commenting all [of Lenderking’s] engagements.”
On Tuesday. the US Treasury announced new sanctions on two Houthi military leaders in response to renewed cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The continued attacks and renewed rocket strikes by suspected IRGC-linked groups in Iraq have led the Biden administration to increasingly emphasize Tehran’s responsibility for its proxy forces.
Last week, the head of all US military forces in the Middle East, Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, said responsibility for the next steps toward peace lie with the Houthis, “but they are prompted by their Iranian sponsors.”
“Iran has no interest in this bloody war coming to an end,” McKenzie said.
Meanwhile, Riyadh’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jabar, has communicated with the Houthis about the possibility of a buffer zone on the Yemeni side of the two countries’ border, Reuters reported. The Houthis are reportedly requesting Riyadh lift blockades on the port of Hodeida and Sanaa airport.
If agreed, broader peace talks that include Yemeni government could commence under UN auspices.