London counts on Saudi Arabia and UAE in search for Yemen solution

Hunt’s proposals included the possibility that Oman would be the guarantor of the Houthis in any agreement.
Sunday 18/11/2018
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) meets with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Riyadh, on November 12. (SPA)
Diplomatic push. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) meets with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Riyadh, on November 12. (SPA)

ADEN - British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s recent visit to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi was aimed at securing Saudi Arabia’s and the United Arab Emirates’ support for UK diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting in Yemen and revive negations to end the conflict, sources said.

Hunt proposed a Houthi withdrawal from the port of Hodeidah in exchange for the Saudi-led Arab coalition retreating towards the city centre and the announcement of a ceasefire followed by a new round of talks under the auspices of the United Nations.

Sources said Hunt’s proposals included the possibility that Oman would be the guarantor of the Houthis in any agreement.

The Saudi-led coalition said on  November 14 that it was suspending its military offensive in Hodeidah and supported UN-backed peace efforts, an apparent reaction to the diplomatic push. “The coalition has instructed forces on the ground to halt fighting inside Hodeidah,” a pro-coalition source told Reuters.

Britain, meanwhile, focused on humanitarian relief and political negotiations, which officials indicated could begin by the end of the month. “We want to see a return of legitimacy and an end to the suffering of civilians,” Edwin Samuel, British government spokesman for the Middle East and North Africa, said on Twitter.

A statement by the British Foreign Office following Hunt’s Middle East trip said “serious consideration was being given to a set of political ideas and confidence-building measures that would allow for the start of political talks in Sweden by the end of November.”

The statement said Hunt’s discussions with the United Kingdom’s “partners” focused on how the UN Security Council “can support the political process and lead to improvements on the humanitarian situation.”

UN Special Envoy for Special Yemen Martin Griffiths on November 16 said Yemen’s warring parties agreed to meet “soon” in Sweden for talks. “I have received firm assurances from the leadership of the Yemeni parties… that they are committed to attending these consultations. I believe they are genuine,” said Grffiths.

The Yemeni people “are desperate for a political solution to a war in which they are the main victims,” Griffiths said. 

The Saudi-led coalition had agreed “to Houthi medical evacuation, with agreed conditions,” “including up to 50 wounded fighters, to Oman, ahead of another proposed round of peace talks in Sweden later this month,” the British Foreign Office statement said. It described the move as “a major development given that this was a prior block to talks.”

The statement said Hunt’s trip to the Middle East, in which he met with the senior leadership of the Saudi, UAE and Yemeni governments and spoke with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi, “helped improve understanding on steps that would lead to a cessation of hostilities.”

The United Kingdom said it would continue discussions on how the Security Council can support Griffiths on the political process and improve humanitarian conditions.

This was to include discussions on a draft Security Council resolution on Yemen ahead of a Security Council briefing on the issue.

International pressure to halt military confrontations in Yemen, especially along the west coast front, has escalated as resistance forces tightened their siege of Houthi militias hiding in residential areas. The Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights warned that Houthi militias were using Hodeidah’s inhabitants as human shields.

Griffiths welcomed reports of reduction of hostilities in Hodeidah. He stressed that de-escalation is a crucial step to prevent further humanitarian suffering and to build a more enabling environment for the political process.

Griffiths, in a statement, called on all parties to exercise restraint. He said he was confident that all sides were ready to work towards a political solution and that he is “encouraged by the constructive engagement received from all sides. The logistical preparations are under way to prepare for the upcoming round of consultations. We are in a position to move forward.”

He reiterated that the United Nations stands ready to re-engage the parties on a negotiated agreement for Hodeidah, which would protect the port and preserve the humanitarian aid pipeline.

In a statement, Hunt said: “Diplomacy and negotiation remain the only path to ending the conflict and I am encouraged that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have shown their support for the UN peace process.”

He added: “In my meetings we have made progress in removing the largest stumbling block to previous proposed rounds of peace talks and set out a credible path to a de-escalation of military activity.”

Hunt’s visit to Abu Dhabi coincided with that of the US national security adviser John Bolton, who met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The two discussed the situation in Yemen, Iran and Afghanistan and other issues.