UN Chief Joins Yemen Peace Talks as Pressure Builds for Port Deal

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

RIMBO, Sweden, Dec 13 (Reuters) – The United Nations’ chief will join the final day of peace talks on Thursday between Yemen’s warring parties that have brought agreement on reopening Sanaa airport and restarting oil exports but no deal on a strategic Red Sea port.

Western nations are pressing the Iran-aligned Houthi group and the Saudi-backed government to agree confidence-building steps for a political process to end the war that has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen towards famine.

The parties have not agreed on the status of the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions, which is the thorniest issue along with a transitional governing body.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived late on Wednesday in talks host Sweden. He and special envoy Martin Griffiths are to announce results of the U.N.-sponsored talks, the first in over two years, and a date for new consultations.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the outcome would be conveyed to the U.N. Security Council on Friday. The talks, from last week near Stockholm, took place in “positive spirit and good faith”, she told Reuters by telephone.

The Houthis control most population centres, including Hodeidah and the capital Sanaa, from where the group ousted the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2014, leading a Sunni Muslim Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia to intervene in 2015.

Both sides received from the United Nations a “final package” of agreements on the status of Hodeidah, Sanaa airport, supporting the impoverished country’s central bank and a political framework.


Sources familiar with the talks said they had agreed to reopen Sanaa airport with international flights stopping at government-held airports in Aden or Sayun in the south for inspection before flying in or out of the capital. The United Nations would oversee safety, a Houthi delegate said.

Deals were reached for a prisoner swap and resumption of oil and gas exports to help shore up central bank coffers. Revenues would be used to pay salaries across Yemen, delegates said.

Griffiths is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, where coalition forces have massed outside the port that handles most of Yemen’s commercial goods and aid.

He has proposed both sides withdraw from the city and place it under control of an interim entity with international monitors.

[aesop_image img=”https://kayhanlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Hodaideh-Yemen-3u329032-Copy.jpg” panorama=”off” credit=”REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad” align=”center” lightbox=”on” caption=”A shipment of grain is unloaded at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. ” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

The parties agree to a U.N. role in the port, the Houthis’ main supply line, but differ on who should run the city. The Houthis want Hodeidah declared a neutral zone, while Hadi’s government believes the city should be under its control.

Guterres called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday to discuss Yemen, state media said.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, leaders of the coalition fighting to restore Hadi’s government, want to end their involvement in a costly war in stalemate for years.

Saudi Arabia faces increased Western scrutiny over its activities following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s Istanbul embassy in October.

The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to move ahead with a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition.

(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne)