Nurses examine a malnourished child at a treatment centre in the Khokha district of the western province of Hodeida on March 11, 2023. The UN estimates that 21.6 million people –- two-thirds of Yemen's population –- will require humanitarian aid and protection services in 2023. Image Credit: AFP

CAIRO: Iran’s mission to the United Nations says a breakthrough agreement with Saudi Arabia restoring bilateral relations will help bring a political settlement to Yemen’s yearslong war, Iranian state media reported on Sunday.

Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on Friday to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies after seven years of tensions that brought the two regional countries to the brink of conflict and fuelled tensions across the region.

Soon after exploding in 2014, Yemen’s conflict turned into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, which led a military coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government, and Iran, which has aided the country’s Houthi militia.

Iran has long been accused by western governments and UN experts of providing weapons to the Houthis. Western militaries have repeatedly intercepted Yemen-bound ships carrying Iranian weapons in the Red Sea. Tehran has denied the accusations of arming the Houthis.

China mediated the major diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Riyadh, which it is widely believed decreases the likelihood of armed conflict between the regional rivals, both directly and in proxy conflicts.

Citing a statement from Iran’s UN mission, Irna news agency said the deal with Saudi Arabia would accelerate efforts to renew an expired ceasefire deal, “help start a national dialogue, and form an inclusive national government in Yemen.”

The month ceasefire, the longest of the Yemen conflict, expired in October. Both sides, however, refrained from taking serious escalatory actions that could cause fighting to flare-up, as negotiations were underway between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia to renew the agreement.

The Houthis appeared to welcome the deal, slamming at the same time the US and Israel, Iran’s top foes.

The Saudi-backed Yemeni government issued a carefully crafted statement on the deal, expressing some optimism — and caveats.

“The Yemeni government’s position depends on actions and practices not words and claims,” it said, adding it would proceed cautiously “until observing a true change in (Iranian) behavior.”

Abdul Bari Taher, a Yemeni political commentator and former Journalists’ Union head, called the Saudi Arabia-Iran deal a “positive first step.” He urged both Tehran and Riyadh to further pressure their allies in Yemen to end the conflict and ease tensions elsewhere in the region.

“They should pressure their allies to engage positively in the UN efforts to relaunch political talks between Yemenis,” he said. “Yemen is a hot and sensitive spot in the regional rivalry. If it is solved, it would ease tensions in other areas in the region.”

Rights groups say Yemen’s war has unleashed one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and pushed millions of people to the brink of famine.