Yemen rivals inch towards common ground

Sunday 01/05/2016
Saudi Arabia will remain strongest player in Yemen

SANA'A - “#Do_not_come_back_to_ Yemen_without_peace,” a hashtag launched by Yemeni social media ac­tivists, says it all. It not only reflects the longing of Yemenis to see an end to the war that has ravaged their country for 13 months but also a strong international will to close this bloody file.
“We don’t want to go back to Yemen without a peaceful settle­ment,” said UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed following the first face-to-face meeting among delegates of the ri­val parties on April 26th in Kuwait.
Indeed, the stability of Yemen, where al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) are vying for influence, is of international concern as the country neighbours Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and is near key shipping lanes.
The talks to end the fighting be­tween the Iran-allied Houthis and supporters of Abd Rabbo Man­sour Hadi, the internationally rec­ognised president, had ups and downs. They opened April 21st after being delayed for three days awaiting the arrival of Houthi and General People’s Congress (GPC) delegations, only to be suspended three days later amid bickering about continued air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition.
Some progress was reported when the two sides agreed to work in two parallel committees to dis­cuss an agenda that provided for the Houthis to quit cities they seized since 2014, allowing the government to retake control. The move was made possible after Ku­waiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah met with the del­egations separately to smooth out differences over the truce and over the agenda and urged them to reach a peaceful solution.
More pressure was exerted by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, with delegates reporting that “the diplomats were quite tough and used harsh lan­guage” to pass a clear message: Peace in Yemen is important for regional security and no one would be allowed to leave Kuwait without an agreement.
Despite distrust and differences in points of view, Ould Cheikh Ahmed said “consensus among par­ticipants to achieve peace makes a settlement possible”.
But the Houthis and their GPC’s allies wanted the ceasefire re­spected and Saudi-led air strikes stopped.
“If the (ceasefire) agreement is not implemented on the ground, there is no need for further negotia­tions,” said Mohamed Abdul Salam, head of the Houthi delegation.
Yasser al-Awadi, deputy head of the GPC delegation, insisted that his party was committed to settling the conflict peacefully on condition that the other party stops air raids and lifts the embargo on Yemen.
According to political analyst Rashid al-Haddad, the pressure from the UN Security Council’s per­manent members and the Security Council statement that called on both sides to engage in construc­tive talks without prior conditions “revealed a big international eager­ness for a successful conclusion of the Kuwait talks”.
He said he expected both sides to agree on the five-point agenda that includes withdrawal from cit­ies taken by the Houthis, formation of a more inclusive government, handing over heavy weapons to the new government and releasing prisoners.
“But the main challenge is to agree on a mechanism to imple­ment these points and on the party to be trusted for that — in case the government of President Hadi in­sists on handing over these cities to the Riyadh-based government — and this is something the other par­ty (to the conflict) considers impos­sible and instead calls for forming a national unity government that would be entrusted with executing the agreement under the sponsor­ship of the UN,” Haddad said.
Analysts say there are several factors working in favour of making the peace talks successful and end­ing a war that has killed 6,800 peo­ple, wounded 35,000 and displaced 2.8 million and bringing about a set­tlement of the political crisis.
Nabil al-Sarjabi, a political sci­ence professor at Hodeida Univer­sity and an expert on crisis manage­ment, said the talks in Kuwait will result in “a partial solution” of the present political crisis but will not touch on the country’s economic and social problems, which will lead to a new crisis.
Sarjabi said he expected “strong ties” between the new Yemeni re­gime and Saudi Arabia, which “will make sure this time not to neglect Yemen as it is now aware that any void will allow its arch-enemy, Iran, to fill it. This is something neither Saudi Arabia nor the Gulf states will allow to happen again.”
Saudi Arabia, he said, will remain “the strongest player” in Yemen as “the international community has given Riyadh a free hand to handle the Yemen file”.