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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

UN Envoy to Yemen holds talks in Washington seeking to jump-start political process

Martin Griffiths met US senior officials and members of Congress in hopes to resume talks in November

United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, sits after arrival to Sanaa, Yemen September 16, 2018. Reuters 
United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, sits after arrival to Sanaa, Yemen September 16, 2018. Reuters 

In his second round of high level meetings with US officials since September, UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths is visiting Washington this week. Mr Griffiths has met with the Trump administration, Congress and financial institutions to discuss resuming political talks between Yemeni factions.

Following a trip to the Middle East, where he helped broker the release of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh's sons from Houthi captivity, Mr Griffiths arrived in Washington on Tuesday.

His schedule will include meetings with the State Department, White House, Pentagon, Congress, think tanks and World Bank.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan met Mr Griffiths on Tuesday to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the latest steps being taken "to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, as well as the urgent need for de-escalation and dialogue throughout Yemen” a statement by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

The US expressed “hope that all sides can work toward a comprehensive political agreement that brings peace, prosperity, and security to Yemen.”

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Advancing confidence-building measures (CBMs) between Yemen’s warring parties in an attempt to bring them to the table is driving Mr Griffiths recent efforts. Following the failure of the Geneva talks in early September where the Houthis cancelled their attendance, the hopes now are to resume negotiations in November while securing everyone’s attendance.

Fatima Al Asrar, a Yemen analyst at the Arabia Foundation in Washington told The National that “Mr Griffiths has been working overtime to prepare for a new round of consultation that will get both the government of Yemen and the Houthis together to jump-start peace consultations.”

Following the failure of Geneva, the envoy “was blamed for not perceiving the hurdles ahead of the consultations when the Houthi delegation attempted to impose pre-conditions before the talks even started” Ms Al Asrar said. This tactic was employed by the Houthis ahead of the failed Kuwait talks in 2016, she added.

To avoid another misstep, Mr Griffiths is now doing shuttle diplomacy to “work on CBMs that will enable the parties to participate in the consultation” Ms Asrar explained. Those include prisoner exchanges, air bridges and economic incentives that would lead to dialogue before the end of the year.

Ms Al Asrar noted that the UN envoy “has also intensified his efforts given the devaluation of Yemeni currency, which threatens worsening levels of malnourishment and famine.” The United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock issued a dire warning this week that half of Yemen's population are on the verge of famine.

"There is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen: Much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives” Mr Lowcock told the Security Council on Tuesday.