Statements of UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths about moves to resume a push for a political solution to the conflict there have raised hopes about the prospect of a peaceful way out of the protracted war and its heavy toll on civilians.
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The envoy’s recent moves and consultations in both Riyadh and Aden were described as preparations to relaunch the political process to resolve the Yemeni crisis, which has practically been stalled since the collapse of talks in Kuwait more than four years ago.
Talks in Sweden between the Yemeni government and the Iran-aligned Houthi militias previously led to the conclusion of a partial agreement that is limited to the city Hodeidah on Yemen’s western coast.
After a meeting on Monday with Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh, he posted a tweet saying the two sides discussed “ways to overcome obstacles facing the prospects for peace in Yemen.”
“The commitment of Saudi Arabia and the region to a comprehensive political settlement negotiated by Yemeni leadership is critical to ending the conflict in a comprehensive and sustainable manner,” Griffiths added.
Observers wonder whether Riyadh intends to quickly close the Yemeni file in order to alleviate a burden that could grow heavier during the tenure of Democratic US President-elect Joe Biden, who is unlikely to have the same degree of harmony with Saudi Arabia as his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
They say that Riyadh’s desire to close controversial files has already evident in its push for reconciliation with Qatar.
In recent months, the kingdom has encouraged factions of the Yemeni legitimacy camp to hold dialogue sessions and reach consensus, leading to the formation of a power sharing government.
Riyadh has also sent positive signs to Ankara and hinted at the possibility of moving past its differences to start a new era of bilateral relations.
Following Washington’s announcement that it is taking steps to classify the Houthi militias as a terrorist organisation and sanction their leadership, Riyadh responded that the move will “lead to the support and success of the existing political efforts, and will force the leaders of the Iranian-backed Houthi militias to seriously return to the table of political consultations.”
A statement by Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry emphasised “the kingdom’s support for the efforts of the UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths and his proposals to end the crisis in Yemen and reach a comprehensive political solution.”
Observers of Gulf affairs acknowledge that the Yemeni file is more difficult and complex than other regional files, and that a political solution poses some challenges, primarily that it is organically linked to Iran’s policies in the region, which are a serious concern for Saudi Arabia and a reason it has resisted Tehran’s proxies.
Via the Houthis, Iran controls a large part of Yemen, which is located on the kingdom’s southern borders and overlooks a vital sea passage. Viewed from this angle, Saudi Arabia’s vision for a political solution in Yemen could be opposed to the UN’s.
The UN recognises the Houthis as a key party “equal” to the legitimate government in achieving the desired peace, which was reflected in practical terms in the Sweden talks that resulted in the Hodeidah Agreement at the end of 2018.
As a result, persuading Saudi Arabia to facilitate a political solution in Yemen is needed for the UN envoy to make headway on a peace process that could comprise the required guarantees for success and continuity.
On Monday, Griffiths visited Saudi Arabia and held a meeting with the Saudi deputy defence minister.
Talks focused on the developments in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian efforts there, Prince Khalid tweeted.
Prince Khalid also stressed to the UN the kingdom’s commitment to reaching “a comprehensive political solution in the war-torn country based on the three references, which will ensure peace and stability for Yemen and the region.”
The three references include the outcomes of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference (2013-2014), the Gulf initiative and UN Security Council resolutions on Yemen.
On January 6, the UN envoy held talks with Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on developments in the Yemeni crisis and ways to achieve peace.
The next day, he visited the interim Yemeni capital, Aden, and held talks with the new government headed by Moein Abdel Malek.
Griffiths is working through these contacts to promote a political solution mechanism that includes a document containing a number of detailed clauses and procedures bearing the name of the “Joint Declaration.”
The document’s content shares the spirit of former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative, which was put forward before the departure of then President Barack Obama’s administration.
In addition to the US’s anticipated role in pushing for an end to the conflict in Yemen and reaching an agreement based on the UN envoy’s initiative, Britain plays a pivotal role in the Yemeni file by supporting Griffiths’ efforts.
London previously warned that it would refer Griffiths’ vision for a solution in Yemen to the UN Security Council if the Yemeni government and Houthis fail to agree.
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