US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking voiced cautious optimism for efforts to end the seven-year-long war on Tuesday but warned that “there’s more that needs to be done.”
Lenderking, one of US President Joe Biden’s first appointments, recently returned from a three-week trip to the region. Since last year, he has been involved in shuttle diplomacy as the Biden administration doubled down on US efforts to help reach a ceasefire in Yemen.
Lenderking met with newly appointed officials in Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council during his most recent trip.
“I do think that the opportunity of a new presidential leadership council creates a more representative approach,” Lenderking told Al Arabiya during an interview at the State Department.
The leadership council has brought together several individuals who “have heated rivalry,” Lenderking said.
He added: “So far, it looks very promising to us when you couple that with the fact that there’s a truce since April 2. I think this is really a significant moment for Yemen.”
The US diplomat was referring to the ceasefire that was reached at the start of Ramadan between the internationally-recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthis.
Iran is playing a destabilizing role
Lenderking criticized Iran for its negative role in Yemen and its support for the Houthis.
He said that the US was all for a better relationship with Iran, but “thus far, we haven’t seen positive behavior from Iran in Yemen.”
Tehran has released statements supporting political efforts to end the war. “We need to see that translated on the ground by Iran,” Lenderking said.
Asked about Iran’s military support for the Houthis, Lenderking said: “That support has inflamed the war in the view of the United States.”
He called on the Houthis to take the needed independent steps to help the Yemeni people. “That’s the case with the Yemeni leadership, also, that we want to see about decision-making that is oriented toward providing services… and addressing really tangible needs.”
The Houthis continue to detain 13 individuals who are or were employees at the US Embassy in Yemen, Lenderking revealed. “They keep telling us that [their detention] is not aimed at us, but it’s pretty hard to believe that.”
The Biden administration removed the Houthis from the US terror blacklist in one of its first foreign policy moves last year.
But after the group repeatedly attacked Saudi Arabia, the UAE and civilians inside Yemen, the US president said he was considering re-designating the group.
Lenderking defended the move as being carried out for humanitarian reasons.
Yet, he said they could still be re-designated. “The president asked that we keep this situation under review, so we are doing that,” Lenderking told Al Arabiya. “But our focus right now is on securing true security interests and also helping the new Yemeni leadership… meet the needs of the people.”
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