The prospect of peace talks over war-ravaged Yemen is welcome, even if the chances of a permanent end to hostilities aren’t good. The meetings in Sweden should mean a cease-fire and international aid to halt a famine that threatens to kill millions. They would also allow time for the governments beyond the region to pressure the combatants to find common ground.
That effort would be more promising if it were led by the U.S., which has the most leverage over the combatants with the greatest firepower: the coalition of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. The U.S. also has long-standing relationships with many Yemeni groups, developed over years of providing economic assistance and conducting joint counterterrorism exercises.
Regrettably, the Trump administration seems less interested in ending the hostilities than in blaming Iran, which backs the Houthi rebels in control of much of the country. To be sure, Iran is in the wrong, but the administration’s position — and its unquestioning support of the Saudi-led coalition — won’t help to end the fighting. The administration has gone so far as to block a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for a cease-fire and the resumption of humanitarian assistance.
The U.S. Senate is attempting to fill the vacuum created by the White House’s inability to lead on this issue. It has advanced a bill to end all American military assistance to the Arab coalition. The measure has little chance of passing in the House of Representatives this year, but the Senate may try again early in 2019, when the Democrats will have a House majority.
Until then, the Senate should maintain pressure on the Trump administration to press the Saudis and their allies to stop their campaign and let relief reach the starving Yemenis. Hearings that draw attention to the humanitarian crisis would help, as would investigations of the war crimes alleged by human-rights groups.
The coalition responded to a previous halfhearted U.S. call for a cease-fire by halting its assault on the port of Hodeidah, a crucial entry point for aid — but only for a few days. After more than three years of trying, Saudis believe they might yet win decisively; and Iran, which has been shipping arms to the Houthis, benefits from keeping its Arab adversaries tied in endless conflict. This doesn’t bode well for the peace talks — but it’s worth a try, especially if the U.S. takes the lead.
The Editors, Bloomberg