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Saudi-backed Yemen government agrees to peace talks

Posted at 8:31 AM, Nov 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-19 22:37:13-05

Yemen’s Saudi-backed government confirmed it will participate in United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Sweden, the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

The government, headed by exiled President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is the first of the warring Yemeni groups to publicly commit to peace talks spearheaded by UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths. The discussions would be the first official negotiations since talks were held between Yemeni parties in Kuwait in 2016.

The announcement came shortly before the United Kingdom introduced a draft resolution on Yemen at the UN Security Council on Monday in which it calls for a ceasefire in Yemen and a two-week break in fighting to allow aid into the besieged country. The Security Council is expected to continue discussing the draft resolution Tuesday, but a vote on it is not expected until after Thanksgiving.

In a copy of the draft resolution seen by CNN, the UK does not directly criticize actions by the Saudi-led coalition, which is backed by the US and others, in its fight to expel Houthi rebels from Yemen. The draft welcomes the coalition’s recently reported military de-escalation in the key port city of Hodeidah to relieve the humanitarian situation and calls on the Houthis to respond in kind. The document does condemn attacks by the Houthis against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and condemns those providing weapons to the Houthis, without directly mentioning Iran.

Rebels in Yemen earlier said they would cease missile and drone strikes on Saudi coalition targets.

“We are willing to freeze and stop military operations on all fronts to reach a just and honorable peace if they really want peace for the Yemeni people,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of Yemen’s Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said in a statement Monday.

Saudi Arabia is facing growing pressure to put a halt to the violence in Yemen after more than three years of devastating war.

Last week, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt met face-to-face with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, where he presented him with the draft text, which sources said provoked anger.

Two sources told CNN that the Crown Prince “threw a fit” over the resolution. Two other sources described his reaction less dramatically, but didn’t deny he was at the very least annoyed.

Another source familiar with the meeting told CNN that Hunt went to bin Salman and essentially said: “This is what Western powers think, and this is what you need to do. What is your plan to stop this?”

Hunt’s trip followed discussions with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, suggesting the Western allies are on the same page on the resolution.

The United States has backed the Saudi-led coalition in its fight to expel Houthi rebels from Yemen, but in recent weeks it has called for an end to the coalition bombing campaign in the country.

On October 30, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the US State Department called on participants in the Yemen conflict to agree to a ceasefire “in the next 30 days.” He also said he expected to see the warring parties at peace talks.

“Thirty days from now we want to see everybody around a peace table based on a ceasefire, based on a pullback from the border and then based on ceasing dropping of bombs that will permit the (UN) special envoy, Martin Griffiths — he’s very good, he knows what he’s doing — to get them together in Sweden and end this war,” said Mattis.

Earlier this month, the US announced that it would no longer refuel Saudi aircraft conducting strike missions over Yemen — the US provides refueling for some 20% of Saudi aircraft.

The Yemen conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels has killed at least 10,000 people. UN experts say the Saudi coalition’s bombings of civilians are potential war crimes.

Saudi Arabia’s partial blockade of the country has deprived 18 million people of reliable access to food, creating the conditions for the worst famine in 100 years, according to the UN.

The World Food Program said Friday that the country is “marching to the brink of starvation.” Its executive director, David Beasley, who just returned from Yemen, told reporters he touched babies who felt like “ghosts” due to starvation.