At his farewell briefing Griffiths paints bleak picture of Yemen mediation

Observers of Yemeni affairs rule out the likelihood of the current envoy achieving any significant breakthrough in the Yemeni crisis before he leaves his post.

Saturday 19/06/2021
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during a press conference at Sanaa’s international airport in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on May 31, 2021. (AFP)
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during a press conference at Sanaa’s international airport in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on May 31, 2021. (AFP)

ADEN – The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, admitted in his last briefing to the Security Council that “the two parties to the conflict have not yet overcome their differences”.

“I hope very, very much indeed … that the efforts undertaken by the sultanate of Oman, as well as others, but the sultanate of Oman in particular, following my visits to Sana’a and Riyadh, will bear fruit,” Griffiths told the 15-member council during his final report.

At the same time, the Yemeni government’s Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Muammar al-Eryani, stressed in statements to The Arab Weekly, the need for real international pressure on the Houthi militias, which he said are impeding the search for a solution to the conflict.

During his recent visit to Sana’a, Griffiths told the UN, the Houthis’ leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, had insisted there must first be an agreement on reopening Sana’a Airport and the key Hodeida port and only after that is done would the Houthis begin negotiations on a cease-fire, a first step toward reviving peace negotiations.

The government, said Griffiths, insists that an agreement on the ports and airport and the start of a cease-fire must be taken as a package.

The UN envoy pointed out that the war has exacerbated divisions in southern Yemen and called for the continuation of “the partnership that was established between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council”.

He said that “the only way out of the impasse is the commitment of political leaders to dialogue.”

Griffiths continued: “With the focus on getting that cease-fire started, we have offered different solutions to bridge these positions. Unfortunately, as of now, none of these suggestions have been accepted.”

Griffiths concluded his latest regional tour, which is likely to be his last, with a visit to Kuwait on Sunday, during which he met Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah and Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Sabah. He said discussed with them, “the situation in Yemen and the need to resume the political process.”

While the outgoing UN envoy sought not to hold any party responsible for the impasse, the minister of information, culture and tourism in the Yemeni government said that international efforts should be directed towards exerting real pressure on the Houthis after the world became aware that they are the only party obstructing peace efforts in Yemen.

This, said Eryani, was especially the case “After Saudi Arabia announced an initiative to end the crisis and a ceasefire, winning the respect and attention of the countries of the world.”

Talking to The Arab Weekly, Eryani indicated that the Yemeni government has made great concessions based on its sense of legal and moral responsibility, despite its awareness of the Houthi militias’ continued intransigence and dependence on Tehran’s decisions.

He added, “Even the positive messages sent by the coalition to support legitimacy in Yemen were met by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias by more explosive laden drones launched towards Saudi Arabia.”

Yemeni political researcher Faris al-Bayl said Griffith’s briefing seemed “desperate and helpless, as if he was defending his  record  against any blame, after the long marathon he spent shuttling between the belligerents without achieving any significant results.”

Talking to The Arab Weekly, Bayl added: “Perhaps his predecessor, Ould Cheikh, achieved more progress, but Griffith’s mistake was to torpedo previous efforts without building on them.

He also reduced the whole Yemeni problem to the issue of the port of Hodeidah. There was also his lack of clarity in holding the obstructing party responsible or creating real pressure to change the equation.  He was content with waiting for the Houthi militias to seriously accept the peace process,  which did not happen, said Bayl.

He pointed out that while Griffiths is leaving his post with limited results there have been substantial international efforts and more effective moves, made by the American envoy in just a matter of months, than Griffiths managed in his three and a half years in post.

The next UN envoy is unlikely to find much to build on since Griffiths, will not bequeath his successors anything but disappointment and waiting for the impossible to happen, he added.

Observers of Yemeni affairs rule out the possibility of the current envoy achieving any significant breakthrough in the Yemeni crisis, given the complexities of the issue and the fact that the envoy’s mission has reached its end without the Houthis being convinced of the cease-fire plan, despite unprecedented international support which the plan has received.

There was also a regional and international diplomatic momentum illustrated by multiple visits made by Western diplomats to Riyadh and Muscat, as well as an  Omani delegation’s visit to Sana’a, together with an exchange of visits between Omani and Saudi foreign ministers to Muscat and Riyadh with the aim of fleshing out a vision for peace in Yemen.