UN pushes for mid-November Yemen talks
LONDON - With the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen a driving motivator, the United Nations is hoping for mid-November talks to achieve a political solution to end the fighting in the Gulf state, a target Western officials and diplomats are optimistic is within reach.
“I expect that before mid-November, God willing, a date will be specified and I expect that the dialogue must begin before mid-November, as a minimum,” UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told Reuters in Bahrain.
Ould Cheikh Ahmed said UN representatives were shuttling between Riyadh and Muscat to determine the date, location and subjects to be discussed within the context of UN Security Council Resolution 2216.
Indications of a slowdown in military activities were noted recently.
“We detect the military phase of this campaign is coming to a close as the coalition forces have established a dominant military position in the country,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said October 28th during a news conference in Riyadh after meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
The indication of a shift towards a political solution was echoed by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al- Jubeir, who pointed to the acceptance of Resolution 2216 by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi rebels as an indication that the military campaign was nearing an end.
“We also see the gains that have been made on the ground. Most of Yemen’s territory that was captured by the rebels has been recaptured,” Jubeir said.
During a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing the same day as the Saudi-UK meeting, Anne Patterson, US assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said there were hopeful signs from Saudi Arabia of its intention to end military activities.
“Most Saudis understand this can’t go on much longer because it’s going to turn the Yemeni population against them and because they’re going to be responsible for rebuilding the country,” she said.
The conflict in Yemen pits the Iran-allied Houthi rebels and fighters loyal to Saleh against forces loyal to the UN-recognised President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Although the parties have publicly agreed to implement Resolution 2216, which calls on Houthi and Saleh forces to withdraw from main cities and surrender their arms, Hadi and the coalition have demanded that this happen before talks begin. The Houthis and Saleh want talks to address mechanisms for implementing Resolution 2216.
The likelihood of an all-encompassing end to the fighting is complicated by realities on the ground, analysts say.
“We’ve heard things like this before and on a larger level a political solution has always been out there,” said Adam Baron, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “But what it really comes down to is whether the actors involved can make a push for a political solution on their own.”
Baron said there are interjecting conflicts in Yemen and the one that directly involves Saudi Arabia is just one of them. Even if a resolution to that particular conflict is found, he said, fighting, particularly in southern and central Yemen, would likely continue.
“You have different forces with different aims. This is particularly true in the south part of the country, where different militias are fighting there; some are pro Yemen-unity, while others are very pro-secession and both sides cannot win,” Baron said. “Even if… they are fighting on the same side, we are already seeing dissension as things progress.”
Approximately 4,000 people have died in the fighting, which erupted in March. The United Nations estimates that more than 80% of Yemen’s population of about 28 million is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said funds were already flowing from a relief organisation founded by Saudi Arabia, which signed agreements with the United Nations to provide $244 million in aid for Yemen. The United Nations appealed for emergency aid for Yemen in April, and in May Saudi Arabia pledged to fully fund the appeal.
The United Nations has had a difficult time kick-starting talks between the warring factions. The most recent set of UN-sponsored talks resulted in fisticuffs and the breakdown of negotiations.