MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much. Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from the Middle East and around the world for this on-the-record briefing with Tim Lenderking, the U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen.
Special Envoy Lenderking will provide details about U.S. diplomatic efforts in support of the UN truce extension in Yemen and the UN ongoing peace progress to durably resolve the conflict. After opening remarks, Special Envoy Lenderking will take your questions.
I will now turn it over to Special Envoy Lenderking for his opening remarks. Sir, the floor is yours.
MR LENDERKING: Thank you very much. Good afternoon and good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us today. As you all know, the truce in Yemen was extended for another two months on August 2nd. If the truce holds for the next two months, which we thoroughly expect, six months of de-escalation and significant advances on numerous lines of effort, I think it’s a very, very important achievement. It really helps Yemen turn the corner potentially for a durable ceasefire and an inclusive and comprehensive political process. And that is very much our goal.
And I think paired with that you have to look at the very, very significant impact and benefits that the truce has brought to the Yemeni people in terms of access, in terms of commercial flights, and the pieces that we’re going to be pursuing going forward I think will only deepen that sense of positive impact.
The truce offers Yemenis the longest period of calm since the war began, and it offers them real relief. And I think that when you look at the various components of that, you can see that borne out. Civilian casualties are down by about 60 percent since before the start of the truce. Approximately 8,000 Yemenis have flown from Sana’a on these commercial flights for the first time since 2016. Five times more fuel is entering Hodeidah Port per month compared to 2021. The expanded agreement that we want to see here going forward – in other words, we’ve had these two-month rollovers – the UN has drafted an expanded truce agreement with Yemen that they have shared with the Yemeni parties.
What needs to happen over the next two months is intensified negotiations to finalize that agreement for the sake of all Yemenis. So we’re going to need compromise from all sides to make progress, which includes initial Houthi action to open the main roads to Taiz. Taiz, as you know, is Yemen’s third-largest city. The residents there have been living under siege-like conditions since 2015. So this siege must end in Taiz as well.
The United States and the international community are really working hand in hand here to support Yemen’s peace process and its recovery. First and foremost, of course, it’s incumbent upon the Yemeni parties themselves to choose peace. So again, what we want to look forward – what we want to see going forward is the way paved through the expansion of the truce to a comprehensive ceasefire and a political process. The expanded agreement would enable discussions on a comprehensive nationwide ceasefire that could bring true peace and calm to Yemen, and it also paves the way for resuming a Yemeni-Yemeni political process. That, in our view – and indeed, I think it is the international consensus – is the only thing that can durably address, durably resolve the conflict and reverse the humanitarian crisis.
So the U.S. remains committed to bolstering UN peace efforts. You see the President’s statement on August 2nd, that of the Secretary of State. You know that during the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia several weeks ago, there was a strong commitment conveyed by the Saudi leadership to extend the truce in Yemen, and that was borne out on August 2nd. Not only Saudi Arabia, but the Omanis have played a critical role, and I would also point to our own efforts in terms of mobilizing international support and consensus, but also noting that we are the largest – one of the largest of the single donors that in 2022, the United States has given over $1 billion in aid to Yemen, and that brings our total to nearly five billion since the crisis began. So there’s no question that America is putting its weight into this on both the political side and the humanitarian side. That said, donors need to continue to step up to support Yemen, and we will be working very, very hard over the coming months to really push donors to continue to fill the gaps.
Let me just close with two other messages that relate to the Yemen conflict. It’s still extremely unfortunate, and we condemn the Houthi detention of 12 of our current and former U.S. and UN staff. They’re still being held incommunicado in Yemen, in Sana’a. This detention, we feel, sends an extremely negative signal. We want to see a demonstration of good faith by the Houthis in releasing these individuals unconditionally.
Lastly, while we’ve been very focused on the truce with them and the various elements that go into it and keeping fighting at an all-time low in Yemen for an extended period, we’re also very, very actively involved in supporting the UN to prevent the explosion or more of the leakage from the Safer tanker into the Red Sea. And so the target, as many of you know, has been $80 million to raise for an operation that would offload the oil from the Safer tanker onto an adjacent vessel.
That’s not a great deal considering what’s at stake. If there is an explosion of the Safer, we’re looking at $20 billion just for the cleanup. There will be impact on international commerce. There will be the destruction of vital maritime habitat. It will worsen the humanitarian situation in Yemen by obstructing passage into Yemen’s ports. It will decimate the Red Sea’s marine ecosystem. We’re getting closer to this 80 million, and again, we’re going to call on donors in both – for both governments and the private sector to step up urgently at this time to close the gap so that we can move forward and prevent this environmental disaster.
Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, sir. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. I do have quite a few pre-submitted questions from our colleagues over on the Arabic phone line, and we’ll try to get through some of those.
Our first question is from our live queue and it goes to Nadia Bilbassy from Al-Arabiya. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: Nadia’s line is open. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: I really appreciate —
MODERATOR: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Nadia, please restart. Your line is now open.
QUESTION: Can you hear me now? Okay. Hi, Sam, and hi, Tim. Thank you so much for doing this. For the ceasefire, is it any indication that beyond extension for the next two months, is there actually a framework that you can build on and go forward? In other words, what gives you confidence that actually the Houthis, which unable to put pressure – I mean the international community and the U.S. – to release 12 members of the embassy, are actually able to go forward not just to extend the ceasefire but to build a process which, as you know, has taken so many people in the region? What are the indications that gives you confidence actually that we can see something different than just an extension of the ceasefire? Thank you.
MR LENDERKING: Thank you very much, Nadia. We have seen a strong commitment by the parties to uphold the terms of the truce, and I think the fact that this is now our second extension of the truce – again, bringing us to a total of six months of calm in Yemen – the fact that the parties have taken tough decisions to do that I think gives me a sense of confidence. I’m very confident in the U.S. commitment. I think there’s extraordinary commitment from the President on down to see this conflict not just stay at the level of a truce, but to build toward the kind of political process that you were referring to. And I think that’s woven into the UN documents that are being circulated, the framework agreement, and I see also the fact that a number of parties such as the Iranians and the Saudis, who are generally on opposite sides of many issues, both welcome the truce and in the case of the Saudis did a lot of heavy lifting to get there. And then, of course, you have the Yemen Government based in Aden at this point also providing incredible support for this.
So as I see international actors line up and as I see commitments emerging from Yemeni parties, you will have seen that the Omanis traveled to Sana’a this past weekend, and in fact those crucial meetings that took place in Sana’a I think were essential to getting us to the truce at the last moment.
So all of this does give me confidence. I’m not going to say I’m overconfident because I think what needs to happen going forward is not just maintaining, but really building and expanding, and building and expanding on the terms that have been agreed to, but we’re also going to be getting into some very difficult issues like salary payments that have – that have stymied the parties up to this point. But we’re already, in terms of our sprint to October 2nd, looking at ways that we can support that effort, which is being led by the UN.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. Our next question is one of our pre-submitted questions from our journalist friends over on the Arabic line, and it’s from Mr. Ahmed Al Balushi from the Oman News Agency. And Ahmed asks: “Special Envoy Lenderking, how does the U.S. administration view the Omani Government’s continuous efforts on the Yemen file, and is Muscat or could Muscat be the right venue for the conflicting parties to meet and discuss means of reaching a permanent truce that might lead toward a comprehensive solution?”
Over to you, sir.
MR LENDERKING: Well, thank you very much. As I mentioned, Oman has played a – is playing a very important role, and I point again to their visit to Sana’a this past weekend, which I think was a pivotal set of engagements with the Houthi leadership. We of course were in very close touch with the Omanis preparing for the visit and there as well, and I think that there’s great, great openness among the Omani leadership in working closely with the United States on a resolution.
So again, when we look at elements that give us confidence, the regional support particularly from the neighboring countries is significant. If you go back to the President’s visit to Jeddah, convening with the GCC+3 countries, having Yemen play a prominent role in those discussions, having the strong endorsement of the Saudi leadership for the truce – you see very, very significant alignment of countries in the region to see this conflict brought to an end, building on the truce and the various elements that we have discussed.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. Our next question goes back to the live queue and it’s from Michel Ghandour from MBN-Alhurra. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: Michel’s line is open. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you for doing this. I have a couple questions. Tim, did the Saudi-Iran talks help in renewing the truce? And to what extent the potential State Department-approved foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE will allow them to protect themselves from the Houthis and Iran without any American help? And you were at the table with President Biden and Saudi crown prince during the visit. How did you feel about OPEC’s announcement yesterday that they will increase oil production in September by another 100,000 barrels a day? Thank you.
MR LENDERKING: I’m going to let – thank you, Michel. I’m going to let my friend Amos Hochstein take the last one. I think what I appreciated about being at the table with the President and the Saudi crown prince was the very serious engagement on a host of issues, which really demonstrated the breadth and the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. And I’m glad to see that energy was discussed, but obviously near and dear to my heart is Yemen, and the fact that these two leaders were able to talk about Yemen and agree on a way forward in a very significant way.
I’d like to – we’re very much encouraging the Saudis to continue their talks with Iran, and we follow those engagements very closely. Iran has played generally a negative role in Yemen. We’re concerned about continued smuggling that could take place, smuggling of lethal goods. But I’m also buoyed by the fact that the Iranians have welcome the truce, and they did so yesterday as well for this second extension of the truce. What we need to see is Iranian actions mirroring or supporting those words. Because I think if we can bring Iran into the regional alignment that is supporting Yemen, as I have discussed, then we have even greater potential, I think, to see progress.
With regard to the arms sales, the U.S. is committed to advancing the security of our Gulf partners against any of the external threats that they face. We want to support the defense of our partners’ territory, their citizens, but also the thousands and the tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who live in the Gulf region. And we’re supporting – continuing to support decades of U.S. partnership to help strengthen these countries’ defenses.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. We have quite a few callers on the live line who have questions. We have quite a few pre-submitted ones. We’ll get through as many as we can.
Our next question is a pre-submitted question from Nada Al-Taher from the UAE’s The National, and she asks: “Sir, is there a specific mechanism for the reopening of the road to Taiz and payment to public service employees? And what in your estimation would be the result, or would be the result in two months, if there has been no progress on these two files?”
Over to you, sir.
MR LENDERKING: Yeah, thank you. I know that the UN is working hard on both of these issues. It’s a UN-led process and we are standing very, very closely side by side with the UN effort here, as are other countries. And obviously, the issue of Taiz road, as you saw flagged in our statements, remains an urgent priority both as a humanitarian concern, but also in terms of one of the elements of the truce that has been called for – the original truce – but the terms have not been met to the extent that we all need to see.
So going forward there over the course of the next two months, there absolutely must be progress made. We – and by progress, we appreciate the fact that meetings have taken place between the parties, difficult meetings to discuss issues like Taiz road, but also military issues. That’s all for the good, but we need to see these roads opened. We’re in regular contact with NGOs and other individuals on the ground who are acutely aware of the humanitarian prerogatives and that exist in that sieged population. The UN Security Council statement which is just coming out now welcoming the truce also highlights the importance of Taiz.
So no one is going to be able to escape, I think, making progress and engaging seriously on this issue. Similarly, both sides want and it’s an imperative for the United States to pay – to see that civil servants who are working literally for Yemen, regardless of where they live, regardless of whose territory they live, that they need to be paid. And there needs to be a mechanism devised that brings – that finds the common space between both the government and the Houthis’ desire to see this done. I’m confident that there’s a way to do that. This is a priority for the next two months and the U.S. will be fully engaged on this issue.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. Our next question is from the live queue and it’s to Mr. Stephen Snyder from The World, PRI. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Stephen, please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. Mr. Lenderking, so glad that you’re doing this. I wanted to ask more about the salaries and to see what else there is to know about payments. How many employees are we talking about? Will their payments be retroactive? And the big one: Where will the money come from?
MR LENDERKING: Yeah, no, it’s a very important question. All I can say at this particular juncture is that all of these particular details that you’re asking for are being examined, because in order to find a mechanism that works to pay salaries, there has to be an account, there has to be oversight of that account, there has to be revenue sources that allow that account to be filled and mechanisms to pay the civil servants.
So I would highlight among all the things I’ve been talking about that this is among the top priorities for the period ahead, and we’ll be very much involved I think in supporting ideas that the UN can put forward quickly. I do think time is of the essence here to put forward a pragmatic and realistic concept.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. Our next question is a pre-submitted question from Mr. Mohammed Mahdi from the Al-Mayadeen Network, and he asks, sir, if you can expand upon what you said in your opening remarks about the Safer tanker and provide more details and give the latest status of what’s going on with the Safer tanker. Thank you. Over.
MR LENDERKING: Well, thank you very much. I mean, this is also an urgent piece of what we’re – I think what the international community is trying to see, again, to prevent spillage or leakage of 1.1 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea at the most inopportune time. There are already food shortages due to the – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s causing hardship to Yemen, ripple effects all around the world. We can’t afford further obstacles to global commerce, the ability to move supplies, and that’s particularly true in the Yemen case, although as we’ve emphasized, too, all of the donors and potential private sector companies whom we’ve spoken to, the Safer isn’t just a Yemen problem; it’s a regional problem, it’s an international commerce problem, and it’s an environmental issue as well.
So we look – we’re looking for private sector and environmental group support for the fundraising and the pledging that is going forward. The UN, I think, is doing a very good job of receiving these pledges, but we’re still short. The target is 80 million. We’re short of that amount, but we are closing that amount with some additional pledges that have been made in the last several days by several other countries. So we are making a real push here to close the gap in the immediate future so that by the time October comes around, the seas start to get rough – rougher in the Red Sea, that we will have an operation underway to protect that oil and prevent a spillage.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. Our next question comes from the live queue, and it goes to Ms. Hiba Nasr from Asharq News. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Hiba, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Tim. Thanks for doing this. The parties are back to Vienna for the next talks, but there is little optimism that this could lead anywhere. Do you have any concern that any collapse in the Iran talks would affect the truce?
MR LENDERKING: Well, again – hello, Hiba – I think we are – I have talked a little bit about Iran’s role and our expectation that Iranian actions would match its welcoming of the truce, and I think that would be very well received by the United States. We wish good work going forward in these talks in Vienna. But no matter what happens with the JCPOA in these talks, we will continue to work closely with our allies and regional partners to address threats that are posed by Iran and its proxies to the region.
I do think just to sum up that there is a substantial amount of momentum in Yemen for a broader peace effort, and we cannot allow any country or any situation I think to get in the way of what is really a crescendo of international support in full coordination with the UN and in conjunction with this truce to really help Yemen turn the corner towards peace.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. We have time for a few more questions. Our next question is a pre-submitted question from one of our colleagues over on the Arabic line, and it comes from Zeyad Al-Jaberi from Suhayl TV. And he asks, “Sir, the truce was extended for two months instead of three months as was done previously, and instead of six months as was expected. What does this mean for the chances of reaching a permanent truce or a permanent solution?”
Over to you, sir.
MR LENDERKING: Well, I mean, the expanded truce agreement that we want to see includes steps that require significant technical preparation and negotiations, and that harkens back to Stephen’s question about the salary payments. And that is going to be a key, key element going forward: establishing a transparent mechanism for civil servant salary payments.
At the same time, I really think the parties have made some important strides going forward, and if you look at – if you ask the Yemeni people, I think you’d find that there’s strong support in – strong popular support inside Yemen for the truce. Yemenis are the major beneficiaries. I mentioned the flights, but the fact that medical patients can now get out of Yemen to destinations, which we were unable to do. And again, I think we need to see these elements expanded. We need to see more oil on the market coming through Hodeidah Port. Can’t afford an oil spill in any way that would obstruct that from the Safer tanker.
So we’re looking in this coming period to expand what we’ve already – what we’ve already seen happening. In that case, a lot of coordination with regional countries who have a role to play here, and that’s what we’re – that’s what we’re prioritizing going forward. And again, having Iran play a stabilizing role would be extremely welcome in the Yemen context.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. We have time I think for one last question. We’ll go to our live queue to Elizabeth Hagedorn from Al Monitor. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Elizabeth, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Tim. In your opening remarks, you said compromise from all sides was needed to make progress. Obviously, it’s a season to open up ties, but what do you need to see specifically from the Saudi-led coalition and the Yemeni Government? And also, are you asking Egypt to permit additional flights from Sana’a?
MR LENDERKING: Yes, hello, Elizabeth. Yeah. I mean, on the last point, the truce does call for flights to Cairo, and we’ve been in contact – regular contact with the Egyptians. There has been one flight to Cairo already. We do need to see more. That is a – that’s a key part of the truce, is that there were to be two flights a week from Sana’a to destinations. The flights to Oman are working very well. We have huge appreciation for the way that the Jordanians are – have responded to this and are working with all the necessary parties on the aviation side to ensure that these flights are secure, and we look forward to that. We will continue to work with the Egyptians on this issue.
The Saudi-led coalition has responsibilities under the truce as well to maintain the de-escalation that they have performed over the last four or five months, can be very supportive, I think, of the Yemen Government. It’s in our interests that the Presidential Leadership Council solidify itself, continue to unify its ranks. But what we’ve seen particularly since the President’s visit and in Jeddah as well is a very strong Saudi commitment and flexibility and with regard to implementing the terms of the truce.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much. Now, Special Envoy Lenderking, if you have any closing remarks, I’ll turn it back over to you.
MR LENDERKING: Well, thank you all very much. I hope I’ve answered your questions. I think the key point from our perspective is that we’re on a short timeline here. We understand the urgency. But I think as you’ve seen from the role we’ve been playing and from the statements from the President, we’re absolutely committed to Yemen’s brighter future and we think this is the moment in which to carry the truce forward and expand on the terms as I’ve outlined. And I thank you very much for your continued interest in this topic and I look forward to continuing this dialogue with all of you.
MODERATOR: Great. That concludes today’s call. I would like to thank U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at DubaiMediaHub@state.gov. Information on how to access the English recording of this call will be provided by AT&T shortly. Thank you and have a great day.
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