Kuwait talks to end Yemen war seem in jeopardy
LONDON - Yemen peace talks have been suspended after representatives of the internationally recognised government walked out of negotiations aimed at ending the 15-month war.
Negotiators for the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi pulled out of the UN-sponsored sessions in Kuwait on May 17th, accusing representatives of the Iran-allied Houthi rebels of procrastination and failure to implement the previously agreed agenda.
The second suspension since the start of talks comes amid accusations that the Houthi militia was skirting around implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls for the rebels to withdraw from areas they seized and to surrender weapons.
The Hadi government Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi said the final straw was the Houthis’ failure to recognise Hadi’s legitimacy.
Mekhlafi asked the United Nations for a written guarantee from the Houthis on endorsing Resolution 2216 and recognising Hadi’s government.
“We will not return until we get a letter from them that commits them to the UN Security Council resolutions, the Gulf initiative and the outcome of the (national) dialogue… The issue of legitimacy is not subject to discussion,” Mekhlafi said during a news conference in Kuwait City.
The setback has left UN and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials scrambling to salvage the peace process. According to Yemeni sources familiar with the negotiations, since talks were suspended the internationally recognised government has been bombarded with calls, mostly from Gulf leaders and officials. The tone of the calls was described as both supportive and stern, with Gulf officials hoping to convince Hadi’s representatives to give talks another chance.
The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, has intervened personally for a second time since talks started April 21st. He met with both delegations privately a day after talks were halted. He publicly urged both sides to work to overcome the obstacles.
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has had a series of bilateral meetings with the delegations and diplomats. However, a sense of frustration was evident on his Twitter account. “A comprehensive peace agreement needs to be a Yemeni-Yemeni accord. Achieving it will be dependent on the commitment of the two delegations,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed wrote.
“We are being flexible with the delegations to help them reach a political agreement but they must assume the responsibility in front of them,” he said.
Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr rejected a Houthi proposal for a national unity government and accused the militia and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh of bankrupting the impoverished country.
“Houthis and Saleh spent almost $3 billion that constituted most of the financial reserve of the country,” bin Daghr said in a speech in Riyadh. “The reserves were used in military efforts to seize the state and authority and stage a coup against the republic and unity.”
The war in Yemen began after the Shia Houthis and their allies overran the capital Sana’a in September 2014 and seized most of the country. Hadi fled to Riyadh.
An Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States and Britain, began an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015. Arab coalition ground troops later entered the fight to restore Hadi’s UN-recognised government.
The war in Yemen has led to the deaths of more than 6,400 people, mostly civilians, and displaced about 2.8 million. The country is suffering a major humanitarian catastrophe, making resolution of the war a matter of the utmost urgency.