The Biden administration announced another $165 million in aid Monday to keep civilians fed in warring Yemen, calling the six-year conflict there stalemated as international peace efforts still struggle to gain purchase.
The U.S. focus on humanitarian efforts comes after Iran-backed Houthi rebels rebuffed what were repeated appeals by the incoming Biden administration to enter peace talks. Houthi fighters have opted instead to keep pressing a siege to capture Yemen’s last government stronghold in the north, Marib, in an oil-rich province.
“The Houthis are not winning in Marib,” despite the grinding siege, U.S. special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking said in a call with reporters Monday.
“And when that reality dawns on people, dawns on the Houthis, I think it will force them to realize that the continued isolation and the fact that the conflict is more of a stalemate, it will pull them back, and I hope bring them to the negotiating table,” Lenderking said.
The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel faction that has seized extensive territory. A Saudi-led coalition supported by the U.S. and allied with the Yemen government has been fighting the rebels since March 2015. The Biden administration said at its outset it was ending any U.S. support for the Saudi military in the war. Saudi Arabia also is now hoping for a negotiated end.
On the humanitarian front, Yemen, which imports most of its food and other commodities, remains the world’s worst crisis.
The new funding will allow the U.N. World Food Program to keep providing emergency food assistance to 11.5 million Yemenis monthly, said Sarah Charles, a U.S. Agency for International Development official for humanitarian aid.
The U.S. is the largest aid donor for Yemen, providing $3.6 billion, Charles said. U.N. pledging conferences to stave off famine there consistently fall far short of their fundraising goals as the war grinds on.
Lenderking praised work by Oman and others for peace talks. He described Iran as the only remaining international player in the conflict indifferent or worse to stopping the fighting.
“I hear some sweet words coming out of Tehran…but I haven’t seen anything on the ground that leads me to believe that the Iranians are prepared to play a constructive role” in that, he said.
The U.S. official also was more explicit than previously in openly blaming both sides in Yemen’s conflict for a chronic fuel shortage that is crippling food and aid deliveries and helping drive up food prices beyond the reach of many Yemenis.
The U.S. is pushing Saudis and the U.S.- and Saudi-backed Yemen government to allow fuel shipments into a crucial, Houthi-controlled port, Hodeida, Lenderking said.
But he also accused Houthis of stockpiling fuel to drive up prices for their profit, and of using port revenue to fund their fighting, in violation of a 2018 international agreement.