Saturday, March 7, 2015

Yemen president suggests peace talks be held in Saudi Arabia as political crisis continues

The "president" of Yemen, and US ally, Mansour Hadi proposed Ryadh, Saudi Arabia, as the site for UN-sponsored talks between Yemeni political groups and Houthi rebels.
The Houthi rebels control the north of the country including the capital Sanaa. Hadi had earlier resigned from the presidency but after fleeing from Sanaa, where he was confined to his house by the Houthis, to the port city of Aden in the south, he "took back" his resignation and claimed to still be president of Yemen. The Houthis took power when UN-sponsored talks failed to come up with a political solution that was satisfactory to them. As a Shiite minority within a Sunni majority country, the Houthis hoped to control the formation of a government on their terms. When this did not seem to be working out, they seized power.
The Houthi rebels have wanted to hold the UN talks in Sanaa but Hadi had wanted to move the talks to Aden or Taiz both in areas of the south that the Houthis do not control. The alternative site now offered by Hadi would be in the headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Ryadh. This is the same group that negotiated for ex-president Abdullah Saleh to step down in favour of Hadi his vice-president. Saleh relinquished power in return for amnesty for any crimes he and his cronies committed during the Arab Spring protests in Yemen against his rule. Many protesters were killed by security forces. The deal was supported by Saudi Arabia and the US. Hadi later ran for president unopposed and was elected. He has been a staunch ally of the US.
Saleh was formerly supported by Saudi Arabia and the US. In 2011 he barely escaped with his life after an attack on his presidential compound and spent considerable time recovering both in Saudi Arabia and in the US. After returning to Yemen he has helped the Houthis, whom he formerly attacked while in power. All of this is anathema to the powers who believe that they should determine the political process in Yemen, the US, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. A UN resolution was passed intended to punish Saleh and his Houthi allies:The United Nations Security Council imposed targeted sanctions on Friday on Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and two senior Houthi rebel leaders for threatening the peace and stability of the country and obstructing the political process.Lithuanian U.N. Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite, chair of the council's Yemen sanctions committee, said all 15 members had agreed to blacklist Saleh and Houthi rebel military leaders Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim. The three men are now subject to a global travel ban and asset freeze.
Now the UN is sponsoring dialogue between the Houthis, Saleh, and their opponents.
That Hadi should suggest Ryadh and the Gulf Cooperation Headquarters as a site for talks is ludicrous. He surely knows that this suggestion would be rejected. What the suggestion shows is that Hadi's power comes not so much from within Yemen as from outside. Both the Houthis and the General People’s Congress (GPC) rejected Hadi's proposal.The GPC is Saleh's political party. The party actually supported Hadi's bid for the presidency in 2012. Saleh still.has considerable influence in the army as well as in politics.
Hadi insists that talks must be moved from Sanaa, the capital, because it is an occupied city. He said: “It’s impossible for the negotiations to continue in Sana’a and some parties have refused to hold talks in Aden or Taiz. Therefore, the negotiations must be held in Riyadh." In response, a spokesperson for the Houthis noted: “Hadi’s call to move [the talks] to Riyadh is an attempt to obstruct the negotiations. We all know that Saudi Arabia considers Ansar Allah [the Houthis] a terrorist group, so how can we go there to participate in negotiations?..We participated in the National Dialogue Conference [NDC] in Sana’a and two of our representatives, Ahmed Sharaf Al-Deen and Abdulkarim Jadban, were assassinated. But we didn’t demand that the dialogue be moved. Would Hadi and the other parties agree to hold negotiations in Sa’ada or Tehran?”The Houthis are supported by Iran. Sa'ada is the main base of the Houthis in the north of Yemen. A GPC spokesperson said that the talks should take place somewhere in Yemen and noted that Hadi himself had insisted that the National Dialogue Conference called to chart Yemen's future transition to democracy had to be held in Yemen. Apparently, now he is more interested in pleasing his foreign backers.
The US ambassador to Yemen, Matthew Tueller, is now working out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as the US closed the embassy in Sanaa in February. However, he visited Hadi in Aden and declared that Hadi was still the legitimate president of Yemen. Several Arab countries are planning on moving their embassies to Aden. The Houthis are likely to agree to participate in talks to solve the crisis even though they are proceeding with the plans outlined in their constitutional declaration when they took power. All sides except Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula and a few militant Sunni tribes would like a political solution. The separatists in the south may use the situation as a way of achieving more autonomy or even independence. The Houthis want to establish themselves as power brokers. Unless the US, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC are willing to compromise and accept the fact that they simply cannot impose their own will on Yemen, a long and costly civil conflict could ensue.

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