Houthi message to the UN and US envoys: No agreements before controlling Marib

Analysts say the Houthis are seeking to buy more time with the aim of achieving a decisive victory in the Marib front.

Saturday 03/04/2021
Houthi supporters chant slogans during a rally in Sana’a, Yemen. (AP)
Houthi supporters chant slogans during a rally in Sana’a, Yemen. (AP)

ADEN - The conditions that the Houthis presented to the US envoy Tim Lenderking and UN envoy Martin Griffiths, including refusing to commit  to halt their offensive on Marib, make it clear there will be no peace before they have gained control of the strategic city.

Informed political sources told The Arab Weekly that the efforts of the United Nations and American envoys aimed at  reaching a ceasefire agreement in Yemen seem to have stalled because of the Houthi group’s stubborn rejection of the proposals for confidence-building measures previously approved by the Saudi-led Arab coalition and the Yemeni government.

The same sources indicate that the Houthis have produced a list of new demands, which the two envoys were unable to have approved by the internationally-recognised Yemeni government.

The list includes the definitive and complete lifting of restrictions on Sana’a airport and the port of Hodeidah and the cessation of Arab coalition air operations.

According to diplomatic sources who spoke to The Arab Weekly, the Houthis passed on an indirect message to the American and UN envoys and to all ambassadors of Western countries, during the meetings in the Omani capital, Muscat.

The essence of that message is that their agreement to a ceasefire and to any political settlement process is intrinsically linked to their control of the Marib governorate, and that they are not prepared to accept any agreement before that.

The sources added that the coming days will likely witness a wait-and-see attitude towards the outcome of the ongoing battle for the Marib governorate, before any new international pressures are exerted on the Houthis to have them accept the settlement plan proposed by the UN envoy to Yemen. That plan was supported by Americans and Europeans and approved by the Arab coalition and the internationally recognized-Yemeni government.

On Thursday, the US State Department announced the return home of US special envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, after a tour where he visited Saudi Arabia and the sultanate of Oman and held meetings it described as fruitful with senior Saudi, Yemeni and Omani officials.

In its statement, the State Department stressed  “the need to reach a comprehensive ceasefire and a solution to the Yemeni crisis.”

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It indicated that its envoy is working in close coordination with the UN envoy to Yemen to help reach a ceasefire and start comprehensive political talks.

Analysts say the Houthis are seeking to buy more time with the aim of achieving a decisive victory in the Marib front. They are continuing  intense  attacks , sending successive waves of fighters in a tactic aimed at exhausting the defensive lines protecting the city.

Yemeni political researcher Najeeb Ghallab told The Arab Weekly that the Houthi group deals with proposals for a ceasefire as a secondary matter, while manoeuvring to abort the Saudi initiative and impede the efforts of international envoys and the sultanate of Oman.

Ghellab indicated that the Houthis’ primary choice is still the continuation of the war dictated by the Iranian agenda. He pointed out, the Houthis are wary of any drive towards a political solution, which, they see as threatening their project which aims at dismantling the internationally recognised government  and imposing themselves as “a de facto authority that cannot be overcome by any external pressure.”

He added that the Houthi militias have two main points of focus.

The first is to “amplify the impact of the human tragedy in Yemen and turn it into an source of pressure to blackmail others inside and outside the country.”

The second focus is “transforming the multiple meetings and international and international efforts into a factor that weakens the legitimacy of the Saudi initiative while they continue their movements on the ground and launch missiles and drones on Saudi Arabia.”

Analysts see the Houthi operating on two separate political and military tracks.  They want to allow the political wing represented by Muhammad Abd Salam to win more time in its negotiations as the dominant military and ideological wing of the Houthis continues to consolidate its gains on the ground.

A lot of evidence confirms the Houthis determination to complete their military plan to control northern Yemen and push the Iranian agenda in conjunction with Tehran’s nuclear talks with world powers, regardless of the political statements made by the Houthi negotiating delegation.

The Houthis are pressing ahead with the attack on the Marib governorate, ignoring all international calls to stop the military operations that threaten the lives of millions of displaced people in the governorate, who are under constant bombardment forcing these refugees to flee again.

Yemeni researcher Saeed Bakran ruled out any Houthi willingness to stop their offensive against Marib, as they want such a move to be part of a framework larger than just a ceasefire.

He added in a statement to The Arab Weekly, “The Houthis will not give up the card of continued attacks on Marib without receiving in exchange something of political and military importance for the group and its ally Iran. ”

Bakran sees the lack of results in the Yemeni negotiated process, as demonstrated by the empty-handed return to Washington of the US envoy to be a clear reflection of Iranian priorities.

At this stage of the critical talks with world powers over the nuclear file, the Muscat talks about Yemen are likely to take a second seat.