Some diplomatic experts view the Saudi proposal as an attempt to at least look more reasonable in seeking to end the protracted conflict and to portray the Houthi side as the obstacle to a solution.
Gerald M. Feierstein, senior vice president at the Washington-based Middle East Institute and a former American ambassador to Yemen, said the Houthis themselves had up until recently been essentially demanding what the Saudis have proposed.
“The Houthis won’t take yes for an answer,” Mr. Feierstein said.
The insurgent group’s position, he said, “leaves the Houthis alone, isolated — and of course, they’ve benefited over the last few years because all the attention in the conflict has been focused on the Saudis, with very little attention to what the Houthis are doing.”
Saudi Arabia began an intense bombing campaign six years ago this week aimed at routing the Houthis, who had forced the Saudi-backed government to flee and still control a vast swath of Yemen. The Houthis are backed by Iran, which Saudi Arabia regards as its regional adversary, and they have frequently responded to Saudi aerial assaults by sending missiles across the border into Saudi territory.
Saudi-led bombings and Houthi attacks have devastated Yemen’s fragile economy and led to widespread civilian casualties. By some estimates nearly a quarter million Yemenis have been killed in the conflict, and millions face acute hunger or starvation. About 80 percent of the country’s roughly 30 million people requiring humanitarian help.
The Saudi announcement came just a few weeks after President Biden, breaking with the previous administration of Donald J. Trump, announced an end to American logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen.
United Nations humanitarian officials have been pleading for eased access to vulnerable Yemenis isolated by the war, warning that famine already is beginning to take hold. After a visit to Yemen in early March, David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, the U.N.’s anti-hunger agency, said “the famine is on a worsening trajectory.”
Six years of war, Mr. Beasley said, had “completely devastated the people, in every respect.”