Kerry announces new Yemen peace initiative in Jeddah
ABU DHABI // US secretary of state John Kerry announced a fresh international peace initiative for Yemen on Thursday, aimed at forming a unity government to resolve the 17-month-old conflict.
“This war needs to end and it needs to end as quickly as possible,” Mr Kerry said in Jeddah after a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed, and other GCC foreign ministers, along with Britain’s Middle East minister and the UN peace envoy to Yemen.
The US diplomat said participants had “agreed on a renewed approach to negotiations” between the internationally-recognised Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, after three months of peace talks in Kuwait were suspended by the United Nations on August 6 without any headway being made.
Mr Kerry also hit out at Iran, saying its arms shipments to the Houthis posed a threat to the wider region as well as the United States.
“The threat potentially posed by the shipment of missiles and other sophisticated weapons into Yemen from Iran extends well beyond Yemen and is not a threat just to Saudi Arabia and ... the region,” he said.
“It is a threat to the United States and it cannot continue.”
The new peace approach will have “both a security and political track simultaneously working in order to provide a comprehensive settlement”, said Mr Kerry, adding that Gulf states had “agreed unanimously with this new initiative”.
After 18 months of airstrikes, the Saudi-led coalition – which is backing the Yemeni government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi – has not yet been able to dislodge the Houthi rebels and allied renegade soldiers loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from the capital, in addition to an area on the Red Sea and in the north.
According to Gulf officials, Riyadh believes that a better negotiating position can only be obtained through gains on the battlefield.
Mr Kerry said details of the new peace initiative would be finalised by the “parties themselves”. But that the final agreement, in broad outline, would initially include a “swift formation of a national unity government with power shared among the parties”.
It will also include the “withdrawal of forces from Sanaa and other key areas”, and the “transfer of all heavy weapons including ballistic missiles and launchers from the Houthis and forces allied with them to a third party”.
Whether the Houthis will agree to these terms, however, remains to be seen. The rebels have previously said that the terms of the UN Security Council resolution 2216, which calls for them to give up their arms, are unacceptable.
Mr Kerry arrived in Jeddah on Wednesday night and had a three-hour dinner with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman that lasted until nearly 1am, according to US officials. The following morning, Mr Kerry met with King Salman for half an hour before holding talks with Saudi officials led by the deputy crown prince and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef.
Those talks focused on Yemen as well as the conflicts in Libya and Syria. Before the meeting, US officials travelling with Mr Kerry said he would update the Saudi leaders on US and Russian plans for greater military and intelligence coordination in Syria and a potential deal with Russia that could see the Syrian air force grounded while Washington and Moscow cooperate again ISIL.
Russia has primarily targeted rebels, some backed by Saudi Arabia, who are fighting to overthrow president Bashar Al Assad, making Riyadh’s support for the plan crucial. Mr Kerry is scheduled for talks with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva on Friday.
The US diplomat also met separately with his Omani counterpart, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, on Thursday morning before attending a lunch with GCC foreign ministers. Oman has played a key role in fostering the talks with the Houthis and their allies.
Mr Kerry’s meeting with the GCC foreign ministers, British Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood and UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed were led by Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir and took place on Thursday afternoon.
The US has backed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen with intelligence for targeting, airborne refuelling for jets, and legal consultation to ensure that the airstrikes conform to international law. But the Obama administration is coming under intense pressure both from within Washington and from human rights groups to withdraw its support in the wake of allegations of civilian sites being hit.
The coalition has pledged to investigate such claims. And earlier this month, it acknowledged “shortcomings” in two out of eight cases it had investigated.
A 14-member investigative team made up of coalition states Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, as well as Yemen, investigated claims of attacks on a residential area, hospitals, markets, a wedding and World Food Programme aid lorries.
“We found shortcomings in two cases while the rest were in line with international humanitarian law,” said the team’s Bahraini spokesman, Mansur Al Mansur.
* With reporting by Agence France-Presse
Updated: August 26, 2016 04:00 AM