UN envoy: Saudi Arabia has ‘legitimate interest’ in Yemen peace talks success

Martin Griffiths has called for talks to take place in Geneva on Sept.6. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2018

UN envoy: Saudi Arabia has ‘legitimate interest’ in Yemen peace talks success

  • In an interview, Martin Griffiths says it is crucial that trade can pass safely through the Red Sea
  • Envoy says the talks in Geneva on Sept. 6 will be consultations to pave the way for negotiations.

LONDON: The UN envoy to Yemen has said Saudi Arabia has a legitimate interest in a stable southern border as he laid out his expectations for peace negotiations next month.

Martin Griffiths last week invited the warring parties in Yemen to negotiations in Geneva in a bid to resume peace talks to end the conflict.

The diplomat has spent weeks shuttling between the different sides in a bid to avoid an assault by government forces on the port of Hodeidah, which is held by the Houthi militia.

He also met with officials from the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which is supporting the forces of the internationally recognized government in their battle against the Iran-backed Houthis.

In an interview, Griffiths said the talks must prioritize negotiations between Yemenis but that Saudi Arabia has a legitimate interest “in a country which does not launch attacks on Saudi soil and where there is no foreign interference.”

Iran has been widely blamed for stoking the conflict in Yemen and supplying weapons and missile technology to the Houthis, who seized the capital Sanaa in 2014. Ballistic missiles have been fired dozens of times into the Kingdom’s territory.

The Houthis have also targeted shipping in the busy maritime lanes off the Yemen coastline, including two Saudi oil tankers last month.

Griffiths said it was “crucial,” not just for the region, but for Europe as well that there was a “safe passage of trade going through the Red Sea.”

“Stability in Yemen is not just for Yemenis and this is why the resolving of the Yemeni conflict is so strategic,” he said.

Griffiths was speaking as tensions increased in Yemen this week, with a string of missiles fired into Saudi Arabia and coalition airstrikes hitting the Houthi leadership and missile launch sites in Saada province. The coalition said on Friday it would immediately investigate an attack on a bus which killed 29 children in Saada on Thursday.

Griffiths said the talks on Sept. 6 are for the two sides to “agree on issues needed to stop the war and restore a legitimate government to Yemen.”

They will be “consultations leading to negotiations” that aim to create a political transition with a government of national unity that includes all the parties.

He also said they must agree on the complete withdrawal and disarmament of all armed groups in Yemen.

Griffiths faces an uphill struggle in the talks with several previous rounds of negotiations ending in stalemate.

The envoy said they had learned a lot of “good and bad” lessons from those talks, including from negotiations in 2016 in Kuwait.

He acknowledged there has also been changes in Yemen, particularly in the south where there have being increasing calls for independence.

However, Griffiths said the future of the south would not be negotiated in this process but will be part of a discussion by Yemenis during the transition period.

“We do not support any separation unless it is the result of a due process of agreement within that member state, he said. “The unity of Yemen is important.

“If you had Yemen to break up today it will be disastrous.”

Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat

UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

Updated 18 August 2018

UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday presented four options aimed at boosting the protection of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories, from sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.
The proposals were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since late March.
The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely however that Israel would agree to the proposals.
In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:
• Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.
• Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”
• Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.
• Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.
A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.
A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.
In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.
In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for Palestinian deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians.
Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”
“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”
On Friday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians taking part in protests along the Gaza border and 270 other Palestinians were wounded.
Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.
“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”
UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”
UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency.
The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.
UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.
The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including its Hamas rulers, have fought three wars since 2008.