Diplomacy

Yemen government sets conditions for peace talks

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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A picture taken on May 11th, 2019, in the Red Sea port of al-Hodeidah shows UN vehicles arriving at the Saleef port. [AFP]

The Yemeni government says it will not engage in a new round of talks with the Houthis (Ansarallah) until the Stockholm Agreement is implemented and the Iran-backed militia hands over al-Hodeidah ports.

These ports serve as conduits through which Iranian arms have been delivered to the Houthis, Yemeni officials told Al-Mashareq, noting that this activity threatens regional security and international shipping in the Red Sea.

The government's assertions came after UN envoy Martin Griffiths visited Arab capitals in a bid to pressure it to engage in a new round of negotiations.

The latest initiative comes on the heels of the February 16th Amman agreement between the government and the Houthis regarding the exchange of prisoners and detainees, which is one of the provisions of the Stockholm Agreement.

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Yemeni fishermen dock their boats at the port of the embattled Red Sea city of al-Hodeidah on June 11th, 2019. [STR/AFP]

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UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths arrives at Sanaa international airport on July 16th, 2019. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

Griffiths visited Cairo to meet with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit and a number of Egyptian officials, urging them to play a supportive role in his efforts to arrange a new round of negotiations.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and all government officials have stressed "the importance of the Houthis committing to implementing the Stockholm Agreement and handing over the three al-Hodeidah ports", Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

This is because Houthi control over the ports "means the smuggling of sophisticated and modern Iranian weapons to the Houthis would continue", he said.

These arms are being used "in the war against the Yemeni people", he added, noting that naval mines and explosives-laden boats deployed by the Houthis also pose a threat to international shipping.

Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani pointed to the Houthis' recent escalation following the January killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

He noted that Arab coalition naval forces had on February 23rd thwarted an attack attempted by the Houthis in the southern Red Sea involving an explosives-laden boat that had been launched from al-Hodeidah.

In a report carried by local media, he said the attack "underscores once again the threat posed by [the Houthis'] presence in parts of the coastal strip to shipping lanes, the flow of international trade and global peace and security".

A conduit for arms smuggling

"The US Navy has uncovered more than one shipment of weapons headed to the Houthis through the Red Sea, the most recent of which were revealed on November 25th and February 9th," Abdul Hafeez said.

Together, this "constitutes sufficient evidence that the UN and the international community should use to pressure the Houthis to implement the Stockholm Agreement", he said.

Al-Hodeidah is "one of the Houthis' sources of power, in terms of the revenue it generates that goes to supporting the war effort, and its use as a conduit for the smuggling of Iranian weapons", said political analyst Faisal Ahmed.

"If we want the Yemen war to end and the Houthis to acquiesce to fair peace negotiations that serve the Yemeni people, the only way that could happen would be with them losing al-Hodeidah," he told Al-Mashareq.

He described al-Hodeidah as "the lung that allows the [Houthis] to breathe and continue to pursue the Iranian agenda of undermining the stability of the region and international navigation".

Economic and military dimensions

Under the terms of the Stockholm Agreement, revenue generated by al-Hodeidah port will be channeled to the Central Bank of Yemen to pay the salaries of government employees throughout the country.

"Thus the Houthis' refusal to hand over the ports has economic and political dimensions," economist Abdul Aziz Thabet told Al-Mashareq.

The Houthis have been diverting the revenue generated by al-Hodeidah ports to their own coffers, he said.

The Houthis' refusal also has a military dimension, Thabet said, noting that the Arab coalition has accused the militia of using al-Hodeidah as launchpad from which to direct missile strikes against Saudi Arabia and vessels on the Red Sea.

Thabet stressed the importance of implementing the Stockholm Agreement in full, "in order to curtail the sources of strength of the Houthis, who are tampering with the lives of Yemenis through the war".

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