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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

UN envoy to Yemen announces Geneva talks in September

The planned round of talks would be the first held between the warring Yemeni factions since 2016

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths. Reuters
UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths. Reuters

Special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths told the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday that he plans to invite Yemen’s warring factions to Geneva on September 6 for a first round of negotiations among the parties since 2016.

“We meet two years too long [after the last round of negotiations],” Mr Griffiths told the UNSC in a special meeting on Yemen on Thursday. “I hope to begin a difficult and uncertain journey to end this war,” he continued, following months of shuttle diplomacy that took him in the last two weeks to Washington, Sanaa, and Kuwait City.

In what could signal a return to the political process, the UN envoy told council members “I plan to invite the [Yemeni] parties to Geneva on 6 September for a first round of consultations.”

“These will provide the opportunity for the parties, to discuss the framework for negotiations, relevant confidence-building measures and specific plans for moving the process forward” he added.

Such talks would be the first since 2016 when UN-sponsored negotiations ended in Kuwait with the Houthis rejecting a plan to withdraw from major cities and form a unity government. Now, Mr Griffiths appears to be eying progress on Hodeidah as a path to reach a comprehensive agreement.

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“Hodeidah is the centre of gravity for the war” he said, reporting slow progress in talks to spare the city a military battle. The gap has narrowed for a solution and there is a “better chance, that Hodeidah can be resolved with a comprehensive plan” Mr Griffiths said.

He called for de-escalation, and for confidence building measures that would include many prisoners of war. Mr Griffiths also urged the Council to do more to “keep the Red Sea out of the conflict”, and not be used as “theatre” in the war.

UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said “Hodeidah is the centre of gravity for the war”, reporting slow progress in talks to spare the city a military battle. EPA/NAJEEB ALMAHBOOBI
UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said “Hodeidah is the centre of gravity for the war”, reporting slow progress in talks to spare the city a military battle. EPA/NAJEEB ALMAHBOOBI

The call for a Geneva meeting was widely welcomed by Security Council members, who urged active participation from the Yemeni factions.

The UAE’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh, said her country “fully supports Mr Griffiths in his efforts to advance a settlement and enforce UNSC resolution 2216” which calls for an end to the violence and recognises Yemen’s legitimate government. Ms Nussiebeh took part in the UN envoy meeting with Arab ambassadors on Thursday morning.

Randa Slim, director of Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program at the Middle East Institute, was cautious in reacting to the September 6 meeting. “There is a lot of time between now and then during which developments could transpire that torpedo the negotiations,” Ms Slim told The National.

Citing more internal fragmentation among the Yemeni parties, she said “assuming they take place, they will be difficult negotiations ... a lot has taken place since the Kuwait negotiations which will complicate the agenda of the talks.”

Building on the UN plan during the Kuwait talks would be crucial argued Ms Slim. “Despite all that has transpired since the 2016 negotiations in Kuwait, the Kuwait deal remains that date the best available deal on the table.”

The expert, who took part in some rounds of negotiations in Kuwait, said that in 2016 the Houthis believed time was on their side. Now, for different reasons “all Yemeni parties are incentivised to come to the table”.

She argued that Mr Griffiths would have to find ways to structure a deal that respects the spirit of UNSCR 2216, while trying to navigate intra-Houthis divisions.