At long last, there might finally be light at the end of Yemen's dark tunnel. In the final session of weeklong peace talks in Sweden between the country's warring parties, the two sides agreed to a future cease-fire in the critical port city of al-Hudaydah and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor in Taiz. This follows a tentative agreement earlier in the week to exchange prisoners and reopen Sanaa's rebel-controlled airport to flights, so long as the planes are inspected in a coalition-controlled airport first.
Why It Matters
In terms of al-Hudaydah, implementation will be the true test of the feuding parties' resolve, but the announcement of the confidence-building measures at the conclusion of the talks underlines just how fruitful the negotiations were. Despite the years of war, both sides displayed a willingness to talk, offering each other warm handshakes and dispensing with shuttle diplomacy in favor of face-to-face negotiations.
The Swedish negotiations have ended for now, but both the Yemeni forces and the Houthis have agreed to a new round of talks next month. And although the military conflict is continuing apace, the opening of humanitarian corridors for the first time in years could actually provide Yemenis with some much-needed relief. If a partial cease-fire actually holds in al-Hudaydah — even temporarily — it would provide a more solid foundation for other tentative agreements, as well as further peace talks in 2019.
The peace talks in September collapsed in part because the Saudi-led coalition enjoyed full diplomatic backing from the United States. More recently, however, incidents such as the slaying of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi have painted Riyadh in a bad light, prompting the U.S. Congress to question the nature of Washington's support for the kingdom. Together, these events have forced Riyadh to adopt a more realistic attitude and abandon its immediate aspirations of capturing al-Hudaydah in a military assault. Ultimately, the increasing political pressure on the Saudi-backed coalition is driving the peace talks toward a real conclusion. A number of major sticking points remain — including the long-term administration of al-Hudaydah (the Houthis want a neutral zone, while the coalition does not), an end to fighting around the port city and Taiz, the role of the country's politically divided central bank in helping shore up the floundering economy, the fate of the Houthis' arsenal, and the contentious status of the rebels in any unity government — but Yemen's warring parties have finally provided a glimmer of hope for peace.