Yemen peace talks: Houthis setting conditions on a plane staircase

In August, United Nations envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths announced to the world and the Security Council that consultations between the legitimate Yemeni government and the putschists would be held in the first week of September in Geneva to pave the way for a political solution and end the armed conflict that has been ongoing since 2014.

This was considered good news and the UN envoy believed that it was the beginning of a success story for his mission, as a representative of the international community between the conflicting parties in Yemen.

Houthis did not turn up

The delegation representing legitimacy in Yemen arrived in Geneva along with the representatives of the permanent members of the Security Council and the representatives of 19 countries sponsoring the Gulf initiative, along with Martin Griffiths who launched this initiative. Everyone was there but the Houthis — the second party, as they were a no show.

Griffiths tried until the very last minute to contact the Houthis and persuade their delegation to come to Geneva,but in vain.This is the fourth time that consultations are being held between the two sides after Geneva 1, Geneva 2 in 2015 and Kuwait in 2016.

The Houthis had given their word to the UN envoy that they were ready to hold consultations. Griffiths was clear that no party would set its own conditions during the consultations, and that each delegation would come to consult without any preconditions, not even a cease-fire on the basis of a temporary truce. That was the agreement and Griffiths was impatiently looking forward to September. Unfortunately, the round of consultations failed because of the absence of the Houthi party which justified its absence with conditions that it made in the last hours.

These conditions were not made in August but they came as a chance which the Houthis thought is suitable to apply pressure on the UN envoy and embarrass him to press the delegation of the legitimate government to accept conditions like not inspecting their aircraft and allowing them to use the aircraft for medical evacuation of their wounded members to and from the Sultanate of Oman. They also made repeated attempt to request the presence of a Saudi and UAE delegation during the consultations.

In the beginning they said that the coalition in support of legitimacy did not issue a permit for the plane that would take them to Geneva. It soon turned out to be a lie and that the authorization was made at the request of the United Nations. After that they put forward their conditions which they knew in advance would not be accepted in terms of time and subject matter. So why did the Houthis deliberately sabotage the Geneva talks? Why did they attend the two sessions of Switzerland and the Kuwait talks which lasted 100 days, but did not attend this session?

Iran sanctions: The hidden factor

In fact, the problem of Yemen can be understood in the context of the regional situation. The most important development in the past several months in the region has been the turbulent situation in Iran, which is the result of the re-imposition of US sanctions on it. It is an earthquake which has consequences, of which the most important is influencing Iranian activities in the region especially in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The spokesman for the coalition forces in support the legitimacy, Colonel Turki al-Malki said that the Houthis are tools in the hands of Iran.

This statement confirmed what is known as the Houthi Ansar Allah militia takes orders from Qassim Soleimani, who has appointed himself a representative of the Iranian regime in the Arab region. Every action taken by the Houthis is an order from Tehran, including what happened at the recent Geneva consultations which Tehran deliberately thwarted as a sign that it controls the security of the region and to remind everyone that its armed agents are on standby waiting for its orders, whatever the international pressure on it or on its armed groups are and irrespective of any economic restrictions on it.

Those blaming Griffiths for not holding the Houthis accountable for breaking their promise to attend the Geneva talks do not realize the difficulty of his mission in finding a common ground with the Houthis. Griffiths tried diplomatically not to lose any party, as such he was resentful because of the absence of the Houthis, but he showed his resentment secretly to the delegation of legitimacy.

However, in front of the international media he was calm, and he was drawing a plan with the Houthis so that the initiative does not collapse. This reaction may be unsatisfactory to the legitimacy delegation that attended and waited, but in reality it is the only reaction that will enable the international envoy to return to the stage where he stopped with the Houthis. As a matter of fact, he already announced his intention to go to Sanaa and Oman to talk to them.

From another angle, the point that the United Nations and its international envoy must understand is that the Houthis cannot make any decisions, as whether they like it or not as they are an Iranian card that has not been burnt yet and the more the US puts pressure on Iran, as is the case right now, the more it will sharpen its claws against the countries where it has a foothold.

Therefore, any progress or regression made by Griffiths is related to the situation of Iran which will suffer a lot in about a month and a half from now when US sanctions on energy trade will be enforced. Although everyone is saying and hoping that the solution in Yemen will be political rather than military, the reality is that the military operational progress of the Yemeni army forces on the ground are the only aspects facing the authority of Tehran over the Houthis.

Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani is a professor at King Saudi University and a writer for al-Sharq al-Awsat. She tweets @Alhazzani_Amal.

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