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Consultations on Yemen with UN Special Envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed

Tomorrow afternoon (10 September), the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, will brief Council members in consultations via video-teleconference from Riyadh. Yesterday the UK asked for a briefing on Yemen under Any Other Business following consultations on Liberia, but Russia, which had been about to suggest such a briefing, proposed that it be held as a separate meeting. It seems there has been progress recently in Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s efforts to encourage the two sides to engage in direct talks, including a willingness from President Hadi to engage in talks with the Houthis. He is expected to update members on the meetings he has had with the Houthis, and with the Yemen government and coalition members. At press time, it was unclear whether the Council will take any action following the briefing, but a statement that would express support for the sides engaging in direct talks is a possibility.

The Special Envoy is likely to address the possibility of a new round of direct talks. He recently participated in meetings in Muscat, where there was positive movement in the position of the Houthis/General People’s Congress (GPC), and he is currently in Saudi Arabia, where it seems he met with Hadi. Last month, the Houthis and the GPC (the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has allied with the Houthis) agreed on a ten-point plan for a cease-fire and restarting the political process. The Yemen government responded on 20 August with its own proposal, which included requirements that, in conjunction with a 15-day ceasefire, the Houthis withdraw from their home city of Saada as well as from Sana’a. The Houthis have made further concessions following the meetings in Oman. These include, according to press reports, an explicit commitment to implement resolution 2216 (which requires the withdrawal of their forces from all areas seized, including Sana’a), as well as accepting the return of the Yemen government under the leadership of Vice-President Khaled Bahah for a period of 60 days while a new national unity government is formed.

Despite Hadi’s apparent willingness to engage in direct talks, the Yemen government and coalition’s commitment to a political process has been unclear. Since defeating the Houthis in Aden in July, the coalition has appeared determined to achieve a military victory against the group, and thre has been speculation about its plans to advance on Saada and Sanaa. Yemen foreign minister Riad Yassin told reporters following a meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby on 27 August, that the battle for Sanaa will begin “within eight weeks”. The recent Houthi missile strike against a coalition base in Marib province that killed 45 Emirati, 10 Saudi and 5 Bahraini soldiers may further harden the coalition’s position. However, the Special Envoy has continued to engage with all the parties, including Hadi, and members are likely to welcome any signs that the latter is willing to engage in talks with the Houthis. They are likely to be interested in learning more about plans for a possible new round of negotiations. Members may want to ask the Special Envoy how the Council can support his efforts to organise a new round of talks.

While there are signs of possible progress in getting the parties to talk, there has been an escalation in fighting, with the city of Taiz remaining strongly contested, intensified air strikes on Sana’a and the coalition reinforcing its forces in Marib. Some members may voice their concerns about the continued possibility of an assault on Sana’a or Saada, despite signs of progress in the Special Envoy’s efforts. Qatar is the latest coalition member to confirm plans to send ground forces to Yemen, and there have been reports that Sudan will commit ground troops. An attack on Sana’a, Yemen’s capital of nearly two million, and Saada, which are both areas where the Houthis have significant support, would represent an intensification of the war with implications for the civilian population. Some members may seek the Special Envoy’s assessment of the coalition’s going forward with an offensive.

In line with encouraging political dialogue, some members may raise the possibility of a Council visiting mission to the region. Last week, during consultations under “Any Other Business”, Council members discussed a UK proposal for a visiting mission to countries in the region later this year. There does not appear to be consensus among members on such a mission, apparently due to disagreements regarding which countries to visit. Members may seek the Special Envoy’s views on the usefulness and timing of such a visit.

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