Diplomatic efforts of UN special envoy to Yemen fall short

Houthis’ refusal to withdraw from the port of Hodeidah is part of their strategy to buy time and Griffiths’ efforts to avert a military solution in Hodeidah are doomed.
Sunday 08/07/2018
Impasse. UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths in Sana’a, on July 2. (Reuters)
Impasse. UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths in Sana’a, on July 2. (Reuters)

SANA'A - UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths failed to come up with a concrete solution to avoid conflict in the port city of Hodeidah despite a flurry of talks with Yemen’s warring parties.

Griffiths reportedly focused discussions with Houthi leaders on preparing for a new round of negotiations by the end of July, which the UN Security Council supported.

The Security Council, in a statement, said: “A political solution remains the only way to end the conflict” and “encouraged all parties to engage constructively with (Griffiths’) efforts to take forward a political solution.”

However, Griffiths’ attempts to negotiate concessions from the Iran-backed Houthis on Hodeidah have not been fruitful. Houthi leaders insisted they would remain in the city but would not object to UN monitors positioned among the port’s Houthi employees and administrators.

Griffiths met with rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi, who has long remained outside of the public eye, and Mahdi al-Mashat, president of the Supreme Political Council, in Sana’a.

Information leaked by Houthi leaders said Mashat refused to talk with Yemen’s internationally recognised government about Hodeidah but told Griffiths that the Houthis were inclined to negotiate a comprehensive peace settlement taking current conditions into account.

Mashat also intimated the Houthis were prepared to wage a long war if necessary.

Griffiths indicated he would brief the Security Council about his visits to Sana’a and Aden. He said he was reassured by the “positive” messages he received and that all parties had demonstrated “a strong desire for peace.”

The UN envoy hopes “to urgently work with all involved parties” to bring peace and security to Hodeidah and “create a positive atmosphere to relaunch peace talks in the coming days,” a UN statement said.

Griffiths’ plan includes ending hostilities on different fronts, including the western coast, to prepare for restarting peace talks.

Some political observers said Griffiths’ moves were suspicious because his statements contrasted with developments on the ground. In addition, his excessive care in preventing the liberation of Hodeidah and his failure to pressure the Houthi militia indicated he is blocking forces supported by an Arab coalition from advancing on Hodeidah, observers said.

Yemeni politician and former Houthi leader Ali al-Bukhaiti said Griffiths’ optimistic posture reflects his misunderstanding of Houthi leaders, whom Bukhaiti charges often say one thing in negotiations and then do another.

Bukhaiti said in a statement that Griffiths would soon discover that the Houthis were unable to honour their agreements. He added they were using Hodeidah as a bargaining chip to maintain their presence in areas under their control.

Saudi political analyst Ali Arishi said the Houthis’ refusal to withdraw from the port of Hodeidah is part of their strategy to buy time and Griffiths’ efforts to avert a military solution in Hodeidah are doomed.

He explained that the Houthis have used the negotiation period to mobilise military forces in Hodeidah while digging trenches and mining roads and buildings. Their intention is to turn the battle of Hodeidah into a long, drawn-out guerrilla war, he said.

Arishi said he expects the battle for Hodeidah and its port to resume with greater intensity in the next two weeks. He added that the Yemeni Joint Resistance Forces on the western coast were capable of finishing the battle by the end of the month.

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