The UN-sponsored Yemen peace talks in Switzerland are in danger of breaking down due to disputes over issues between the warring parties. The talks are hoped to lay the foundation for a permanent ceasefire and peaceful transition of political power, however, at this point they do not appear to be moving in a positive direction.
The key item of dispute is the release of several Yemeni government officials currently being held as prisoners by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The Houthis rejected the demand on Wednesday night, stating that the officials will be released following the implementation of a permanent ceasefire. Since then, direct talks between the two sides have been suspended.
Another issue bogging down talks is frailty of the temporary ceasefire, which was put in place in the days leading up to the talks. Clashes have broken out and today the fighting escalated as forces loyal to Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi captured a Houthi military base in the city of Marib following two days of sustained fighting. Saudi and other coalition aircraft were also in action against rebel targets in north Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen has not received much attention from the media in recent months as the conflict in Syria has taken center stage in the Middle East. This does not minimize the significance of the situation, however. The stakes are astronomically high for Saudi Arabia, which is supporting the government of President Hadi, and for Iran, which is backing the Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and Iran are grappling to determine which one will be the dominant power in the Middle East. At the moment, whichever nation-state comes out on top in Yemen will have a nearly insurmountable advantage when the next round of the confrontation begins in the future.