Asked whether US President Joe Biden could end the war today, and whether he believes the US is doing enough to resolve the conflict, Semneby would not respond with a categorical “yes” or “no.”
He defended Washington’s efforts, while adding that Europe’s open channels with Iran could help foster talks in Yemen.
“I think the US has done quite a lot in terms of getting attention to the conflict in Yemen and supporting the conflict resolution efforts,” said Semneby.
“You may remember that President Biden, in his very first speech on foreign policy that he held at the State Department just a couple of weeks after the inauguration in 2021, mentioned Yemen.
“I think it was the second country that he mentioned in that speech, and Yemen has been on the agenda constantly in discussions with both Saudi Arabia and other partner countries.
“Of course, it’s important that the Americans do this in cooperation with others. We’re working very closely with the Americans as well.
“The Americans don’t have direct communication channels with the Iranians. Others have. So I think it’s not correct to assume that the Americans by themselves would be able to do this if they did so.”
Semneby said Saudi Arabia’s restoration of formal diplomatic relations with Iran is welcome news, but the international community must wait and see what impact it will have on the situation in Yemen.
“The Saudis and the Houthis have engaged in quite extensive talks after the Saudi-Iranian agreement was announced, so it obviously opened up possibilities that weren’t there before,” he said.
“But I still think it’s still too early to say whether the two sides in those talks have adjusted their expectations sufficiently in order to actually reach a UN agreement.
“It seems that the Houthis are still … insisting on 100 percent of what they want to achieve, or maybe even increasing their demands, asking for 110 percent. That won’t do the trick, obviously — they’ll have to strike a compromise in the end.”
Iran has long been arming and funding the Houthi militia. Officially called Ansar Allah, the militia seized control of Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014, sparking a protracted civil war against the UN-recognized government.
The China-brokered agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran was a major breakthrough that lowered the chances of further conflict and raised the possibility of a lasting ceasefire in Yemen.
However, analysts believe that much depends on the Houthis’ openness to negotiation and the sides’ willingness to find a compromise solution.
“We still have a window of opportunity, and it has been pushed a little bit more open after the Saudi-Iranian agreement,” said Semneby.
“So I’m mildly hopeful that we can see a more permanent and a more formal monitored ceasefire being negotiated.
“I do think there’s hope. We’re in a better place than we were a year and a half ago, before the Saudi-Iranian agreement.”
One solution being mooted is the partitioning of Yemen into separate northern and southern states, as they had been from 1918 until 1990, when they unified as a single republic.
Some of Yemen’s neighbors are eager that it remain a single entity, while others appear to be gravitating toward partition.
Asked how likely a split might be, Semneby said it could be “messy” but it would be a matter for the Yemeni people to decide.
“I don’t want to make any predictions. What I’d like to say is that this is a question that will have to be decided by Yemenis themselves, and this can only be done as part of a comprehensive political process.
“It may very well be that that process will result in a partition, and then the world should respect it. I’d also add that I believe that most countries would prefer a unified Yemen.
“I think the partitions of countries are, although they’ve happened, are always difficult and messy matters. But ultimately this has to be for the Yemenis.
“But … it’s a secondary issue. The primary issue that all Yemenis need to focus on at this moment is to bring an end to the war and to sit together at one table, or in one room, to discuss all the very important and very difficult issues that Yemen is faced with.”
There is even a danger that splitting Yemen in two could lead to further, regional fractures, with provinces such as Hadramout peeling off to form their own state.
“If you start separating one part of the country, there are always those who aren’t going to be happy with the people in charge of that part separating, so … there’s always the risk of a chain reaction,” said Semneby.
“Today we need to focus on the more urgent problems. And I think that those making decisions in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, they agree on this.
“Their prime concern is that Yemen will be stable, that it won’t be a source of insecurity anymore, that it will be sufficiently prosperous economically to support itself to a much larger extent than is the case now, that it will be able to export its natural resources and so on.
“So these are all the things to concentrate on. And I’m sure that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi agree on this most important and most urgent task in Yemen.”