Yemen Briefing and Press Statement
Tomorrow morning (3 June), Council members are likely to receive a briefing from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Yemen via video teleconference under “any other business” following consultations on Syria. Russia requested to have the meeting on Yemen this morning (2 June). Members last met on Yemen on 20 May, when they were briefed by Ould Cheikh Ahmed and OCHA Operations Director John Ging. During the meeting, members agreed on press elements welcoming the Secretary-General’s announcement to launch inclusive consultations in Geneva on 28 May and reaffirming that all Yemeni parties should attend without preconditions.
Since then the Secretary-General announced the postponement of these talks on 26 May, and the Council has been considering, since Sunday evening (31 May), a UK-drafted press statement expressing disappointment that the talks were postponed and urging Yemeni stakeholders to participate in inclusive negotiations as soon as possible. Attempts to agree on the draft press statement were made yesterday but it seems that Jordan has had difficulty accepting the statement, as most of its amendments, reflecting the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) positions, were not incorporated. It seems that the UK continued to engage Jordan bilaterally and a compromise was found earlier today. It appears that an additional line having the Council reiterate their demand for the full implementation of relevant Council resolutions may have allowed Jordan to accept the draft text. At press time the draft press statement was under silence.
At tomorrow’s meeting, members will be interested in an update from Ould Cheikh Ahmed on his efforts to get Yemeni parties to start negotiations since the planned consultations in Geneva were postponed. The draft press statement was circulated by the UK following a request by the Secretariat for a Council expression of support for the holding of political talks. The meeting could be an opportunity for members to get a better understanding of the challenges that Ould Cheikh Ahmed is facing, and to hear directly from the Special Envoy himself about the support he is seeking from the Council. The draft press statement under silence reaffirms the Council’s previous call for all Yemeni parties to engage in talks without preconditions and in good faith—elements that the Secretary-General has emphasised in his recent statements both announcing the Geneva talks and their subsequent postponement. It additionally endorses the Secretary-General’s call for further humanitarian pauses. Other elements include references to the conflict’s impact on the delivery of commercial goods, in particular on the urgent need for food and fuel imports, which have been hindered, in part, by the Saudi-led coalition’s restrictions on shipping and flights.
Yemen President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi and other stakeholders have apparently stressed that they will not take part in talks until the Houthis start implementing resolution 2216, which would involve the group withdrawing from areas that it has captured. The Houthis have stipulated as a precondition that the airstrikes should stop before they take part in talks. It seems the Houthis also want the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA), signed on 21 September 2014 between Yemen’s major parties following the Houthi takeover of Sana’a, to be a reference document for negotiations. Hadi and GCC members apparently oppose this, claiming that the agreement was signed under coercion. The Council has frequently cited the importance of parties implementing the PNPA, along with the other major agreements on the Yemeni transition – such as the GCC Initiative and national dialogue outcomes – in its various statements and resolutions.
Ould Cheik Ahmed could provide more details and clarity on the parties’ different positions regarding returning to negotiations. He was recently in Yemen from 29 to 31 May, and in Riyadh over the last two days. Since his last briefing on 20 May, the Special Envoy has also travelled to Tehran. Some members may be interested in Ould Cheik Ahmed’s insights on the reported discussions in Oman between the US and the Houthis.
Over the last month, a dynamic has emerged in which proposals and positions by Jordan, which supports the position of GCC countries, have encountered much less support in the Council than they did when the Yemen conflict first escalated in late March and the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention. It seems that Council members are keen to support the UN’s efforts in getting the parties to return to UN-brokered negotiations, and Jordan has been alone in some of its proposals such as highlighting the recent Riyadh conference on Yemen, or in its objection to the proposal that the Council call on the parties to engage in talks “without preconditions”.
Postscript (3 June): The press statement was issued on 2 June. When the Council met on Yemen on 3 June, both the Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (by video-teleconference) and Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien of OCHA briefed.