Yemen: Consultations on the Limited Progress of Peace Talks
Tomorrow (3 August), the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, will brief Security Council members in consultations, together with Kyung-wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. Even though a briefing on Yemen has been scheduled for later in the month, Council members have grown increasingly worried about the limited progress of the peace talks, and the idea of an earlier briefing was discussed late last week.
On 28 July, the Houthis and the General People’s Congress (GPC), the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, announced that they would establish a political council to run the country. Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the decision threatened the talks and violated resolution 2216 of 14 April 2015, which demanded that all parties refrain from unilateral actions that undermine Yemen’s political transition. Following this decision, the UK circulated a draft press statement expressing concern at this announcement and stressing that it contravenes the commitments to support the UN-facilitated peace process. It seems that there were differences among some Council members over language in the draft text, and Russia asked for this briefing in order to get more clarity on developments around the peace talks.
On 31 July, the delegation from the Yemen government decided to leave Kuwait, where the talks are held, after agreeing to a UN proposal providing for the development of interim security arrangements—including to oversee the withdrawal and disarmament of the Houthis, the restoration of state institutions, the release of detainees, and plans to resume negotiations to discuss the formation of a unity government. This proposal, which builds on a roadmap presented to the parties by Ould Cheikh Ahmed in June, has already been rejected by the Houthis and the GPC. A 1 August statement by the Group of 18 Ambassadors to Yemen commended the delegation of the Yemeni government for their willingness to accept the latest UN proposal, and called on the delegation representing the Houthis and the GPC to engage with the UN Special Envoy on the proposal in a constructive manner.
Russia requested this briefing by Ould Cheikh Ahmed in order to get his perspective on the developments in the talks, including the reception of the roadmap he had presented to the parties and how recent decisions by the parties may affect the viability of the talks. Council members might take this occasion to reflect on their engagement regarding the conflict in Yemen. Divisions in the Council have prevented genuine engagement in the political process to press for a peaceful settlement. As a result of these divisions, Council members were unable to reach consensus on a draft presidential statement ahead of the second round of the Kuwait talks in July. Egypt, and at times Senegal, champion the positions of the Saudi-led coalition, of which they are members. Russia, on the other hand, often seeks to highlight the perspective of the Houthis and to promote what it considers more balanced Council positions. Council members might be interested in hearing Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s assessment of how the Council could help break the political impasse created by the parties’ preconditions, given the fact that implementing resolution 2116is often presented as a precondition by the Yemen government in the talks, in asking for the withdrawal and disarmament of the Houthis before agreeing on a unity government.
Council members are expected to want more information about Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s plan to continue engaging with the parties as the present round of talks adjourns on 7 August.
Kang will focus on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. Even though the parties remain rhetorically committed to the cessation of hostilities, they continue to engage in fighting on the ground, including in the Taiz governorate where government forces captured al-Sarari and Taiz city from the Houthis last week, with the latter being surrounded now by Houthi forces. Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition also persist. As of 30 June 6,500 people had been killed and some 32,000 injured as a result of the conflict. Some 14 million people (over half the country’s population) are food insecure and 2.8 million internally displaced people require assistance.