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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Yemen talks delayed after Houthi no-show but still 'fruitful'

Rebels didn’t attend the Geneva discussion but the UN envoy said progress had still been made

Martin Griffiths, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, said the talks were postponed, not cancelled or deadlocked. EPA
Martin Griffiths, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, said the talks were postponed, not cancelled or deadlocked. EPA

UN-mediated talks on Yemen ended on Saturday before they ever properly started after the envoy Martin Griffiths postponed the meeting and admitted that it had not been possible to persuade the Houthi rebels to come to Geneva.

Mr Griffiths stressed that the failure to hold the talks was not a fundamental blockage to the peace process and did not signify a deadlock. He said it merely delayed the formal start and, nevertheless, progress had been made.

“The important aspect of the last three days is that we have started consultations, the road back to peace has started but not in the way that we want it, but it has begun,” Mr Griffiths said, adding that he appreciates the commitment and engagement of the Yemeni government delegation.

The UN envoy hinted that the snag had been logistics after the Iran-backed rebels failed to show up ahead of Thursday’s initially scheduled talks and raised a series of last-minute demands.

“We didn’t manage to get the Houthi delegation from Sanaa to come here,” Marin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva on Saturday.

Mr Griffiths ruled out the Houthis initial claim that they had not received authorisation to fly out of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital they seized in 2014. The rebels then added demands, including that wounded fighters be transported to Oman for treatment and a guarantee the delegation would be allowed to return to Yemen.

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Read more:

UN's Yemen envoy confirms rebel failure to attend talks

UAE's Anwar Gargash: Houthis are 'not committed' to Geneva peace talks

Iran is sabotaging UN talks says Yemeni president’s adviser

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Ahead of the official announcement that talks were postponed, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khalid Al Yamani told The National that they hoped for more substantive discussions soon.

“As a result of the [Houthis] absence the process will be postponed and we look forward to more serious and engaging processes in the future,” Mr Al Yamani said on Friday night.

The minister, who leads the government delegation, said that the international community should have been more serious in dealing with the Houthis.

“We wanted the UN to be firmer in bringing the other party to the consultations,” he said on Saturday during a press conference.

Mr Al Yamani said that if the rebels were sincere about reaching a peace deal then they should have come, even if the two factions were meeting in separate rooms with Mr Griffiths’ acting as an intermediary.

“The UN Envoy was making excuses for the Houthis in his statements, he was defending the rebels and justifying their actions,” the minister said before leaving the Swiss city.

Rana Al Ghanem, a member of the government delegation, told The National that the Houthis have been trying to sabotage the UN and the international community’s efforts in finding a political settlement to the crisis in Yemen.

“Their participation was vital here, we needed them to be here so that we can start the official process but they are not serious,” Ms Al Ghanem said.

Consultations in Geneva were supposed to convene on Thursday but were postponed as the rebels’ representatives still refused to fly out of Yemen on Friday. The government negotiating team arrived in the Swiss city on Wednesday and have held several informal meetings with Mr Griffiths.

The UN envoy declined to blame either side for the failure to start the consultations, saying that it would not help Yemen.

A diplomatic source told The National that the UN envoy held a number of meetings with the government delegation and other parties in order to try and convince the Houthis to come to Switzerland.

“We tried to find various ways of getting the Houthis here over the past three days, but we couldn’t,” the source said, adding that this is not the end of the process.

Mr Griffiths insisted that the meetings that were held were “fruitful” and some “good progress” was made, especially on confidence-building measures.

The UN envoy said he would start working on holding new talks between the two sides wherever, whenever.

The three-day talks in Geneva focused on the issues of releasing prisoners, delivery of humanitarian aid to areas such as Taez and getting both sides to agree to a unified central bank operation.

An agreement has been made for medical evacuations from the Houthi-held Yemeni capital of Sanaa, scheduled to start in a week with a flight to Cairo.

Mr Griffiths called it an “early achievement”.

Meanwhile, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said that a political solution is the only way forward in finding peace in Yemen.

“What is perhaps clearer now to the international community is the unwillingness of the Houthis to engage in good faith with such a process,” Dr Gargash said on Twitter.

The UN-mediated talks in Geneva would have been the first public meetings involving delegations from the government and rebels since 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to reach agreement on power-sharing.