No face-to-face meetings set for Yemen peace talks

Displaced Yemenis from the border area of Hiran with Saudi Arabia build a makeshift shelter at an improvised camp for displaced people in the northern province of Hajjah on August 29, 2018. The UN has invited Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia to Geneva for talks which open Thursday. ( AFP / ESSA AHMED)
Updated 03 September 2018
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No face-to-face meetings set for Yemen peace talks

  • Yemen’s government has openly said it has low expectations for the talks, blaming the Houthis for refusing to make concessions
  • The US says it fully supported Griffiths’ peace efforts

ADEN: Yemen’s warring parties will not meet directly at UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva this week, likely to focus on a prisoner exchange deal and the fate of a key port, government officials said Sunday.

The UN has invited Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia to Geneva for talks which open Thursday.

Both parties have confirmed they are sending high-level delegations to the talks, but officials say expectations of a breakthrough are low.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths has said the talks are aimed at charting a path forward to revive UN-backed negotiations which broke down in 2016. The Yemeni government says the meetings will likely focus on a prisoner exchange deal and the fate of embattled Hodeida, the Houthi-held port city.

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Yamani told AFP the meetings “will not be face-to-face and depend on how well the UN envoy manages the two sides.”

“The consultations will be indirect, unless there is some progress that can be made directly,” said Abdullah Al-Olaimi, head of Yemen’s presidential office and a member of the Geneva delegation.

Yemen’s government has openly said it has low expectations for the talks, blaming the Houthis for refusing to make concessions.

“Our expectations are limited to the possibility of progress in the question of prisoners and detainees,” Yamani said.

“I think this is the chance to succeed in securing the release of prisoners, and I believe the other party is also willing and ready.”

The US said on Sunday it “fully supported” Griffiths’ efforts.

“It is imperative that all parties work toward a comprehensive political solution to avoid further harm to the Yemeni people,” said state department spokesperson Heather Nauert.

The UN has set a low bar for the talks — the first since 106 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield an agreement between the government and Houthi militia in 2016.

“The aim of this first round of consultations is to better understand how committed both parties are to the framework for formal negotiations ... and to come to some conclusions about how those negotiations may start,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

In July, the Yemeni government demanded the release of all prisoners held by the Houthis as a condition for the start of peace talks.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a government source said the delegation would demand the release of 5,000 prisoners while the Houthis were hoping for the liberation of 3,000 of their fighters.

Rights group Amnesty International in July said it feared violations in a string of Yemeni prisons could amount to war crimes.

The Geneva talks will also look at the economy in Yemen, long the Arab world’s most impoverished country.

In 2014, the Iran-backed Houthis overran the capital, driving out the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and setting up a parallel government in Sanaa.

The rebels, however, have been unable to pay the salaries of many civil servants for months, according to reports from the capital.

Yamani said the government could step in to help pay the overdue salaries, a move likely aimed at strengthening the state’s grip on the national economy and boosting its standing in militia-held areas.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.