Atmosphere of optimism follows Yemen deal

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden and AFP

This picture taken on November 6th shows a billboard bearing a portrait of Yemen's President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi on a main road in the Red Sea port city of Aden. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

This picture taken on November 6th shows a billboard bearing a portrait of Yemen's President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi on a main road in the Red Sea port city of Aden. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

An atmosphere of optimism has prevailed in Yemen since the Tuesday (November 5th) signing of a power sharing agreement in Riyadh between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), officials said.

Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister Salem al-Khanbashi and STC Presidential Board member Nasser al-Khabji signed the agreement, which pledged to end fighting between the two sides that broke out in August.

Also present at the signing was Yemen's President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, along with other officials.

The so-called Riyadh agreement, hailed as a stepping stone towards ending the wider conflict, would see the government return to Aden and place armed forces from both sides under the authority of the defence and interior ministries.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman confirmed that Saudi Arabia, which leads the Arab Coalition, would continue its efforts to establish peace in Yemen, and stressed the importance of reaching peaceful solutions.

The deal calls for the formation of a new, 24-member cabinet of technocrats within 45 days, with equal representation for northerners and southerners.

It stipulates that the Yemeni government will resume its work from the provisional capital of Aden within seven days of the signing of the deal.

The agreement also calls for the integration of STC units into the interior ministry’s forces and re-positioning the army forces in southern provinces.

A joint committee overseen by the Arab Coalition will monitor implementation.

Praise for Saudi efforts

"We highly appreciate the Saudi role in reaching this agreement," Yemen’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mansour Bajash told Al-Mashareq.

"The deal caps two months of Saudi efforts to reach an agreement with clear goals and unify the efforts of state institutions," he added, noting that the Riyadh deal is seen as a prelude to a comprehensive political solution in Yemen.

He urged the UN to seize the opportunity to pressure the Houthis to stop the war and negotiate for peace.

The agreement is part of the Arab Coalition’s efforts to restore Yemen's legitimate government, following the Houthis' coup, and defeat the Iranian project, STC spokesman Nezar Haitham told Al-Mashareq.

"The agreement caps Saudi Arabia's efforts to build peace and establish the rights of southerners," he said. "The STC trusts that Saudi Arabia will implement the deal in its capacity as sponsor and observer of its implementation by all sides."

Yemeni diplomat Abdul Wahab Tawaf told Al-Mashareq the Riyadh deal is important and is in the interest of Yemen’s security, stability and unity.

"This agreement will end a dark and bloody period of infighting that should not have taken place among the political forces that believe in the state" and oppose the schemes of Iran and the Houthis, he said.

"Yemen appreciates the Saudi efforts to support Yemen's unity, stability and security," he said.

General People's Congress general committee member Adel al-Shujaa told Al-Mashareq the agreement is good, but the most important phase is the implementation, which is likely to face challenges.

"Each party has made promises to their supporters, with the STC promising them independence [...] and the legitimate government promising unity," he added.

"Will the STC put down the flags of separation? And will the legitimate government raise the flags of unity?"

'Open channel' with Houthis

Riyadh also has an "open channel" with the Houthis, with the goal of ending the war, a Saudi official said Wednesday.

"We have had an open channel with the Houthis since 2016. We are continuing these communications to support peace in Yemen," a senior Saudi official said.

"We do not close our doors with the Houthis."

The official, who declined to be named, did not describe the nature of the communication.

There was no immediate comment from the Houthis.

Wednesday's confirmation comes amid the slow implementation of a landmark ceasefire deal for the key aid port of al-Hodeidah, which was agreed between the government and the Houthis in Sweden late last year.

The deal was hailed as Yemen's best chance so far to end the four-year conflict, but it appears to be hanging by a thread with breaches reported by both sides.

"If the Houthis (are) serious to de-escalate and accept to come to the table, Saudi Arabia will support their demand and support all political parties to reach a political solution," the Saudi official said.

The Houthis, on their part, have offered to halt all attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of a wider peace initiative, later renewing their proposal.

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