Houthi no-show leaves Geneva talks in doubt

Houthi militia refused Thursday to join talks scheduled to take place in Geneva until their conditions are met. (AFP)
Updated 07 September 2018

Houthi no-show leaves Geneva talks in doubt

  • Houthi delegation refuses to leave Sanaa, first blaming a lack of transport and then claiming the UN had not met their conditions
  • Coalition supporting the Yemeni government says the delay shows the Houthis are not serious about the Geneva talks

JEDDAH: Houthi militia have been accused of setting out to thwart United Nations-sponsored peace talks on Yemen following the failure of a rebel delegation to appear at the Geneva negotiations.

Discussions aimed at ending the three-year conflict were expected to begin on Thursday, but the Houthi team’s no-show left the talks in doubt, sparking frustration among negotiators.

The Houthi delegation failed to arrive following a series of last-minute demands and a claim that it lacked the necessary flight authorization to leave Sanaa in Yemen.

However, high-level anonymous sources in the Yemeni Civil Aviation and Meteorology Authority later revealed a copy of a flight permit showing the Houthi delegation had permission to take off from Sanaa airport bound for Geneva.
The copy of the permit was obtained by the Yemeni online newspaper Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni.
According to the aviation authority sources, the Houthi delegation offered “vague and flimsy excuses” aimed at disrupting the UN-sponsored consultations.
Earlier the delegation demanded that their flight be allowed to carry wounded Iranian and Hezbollah fighters to Oman for treatment before resuming the journey to Geneva.

The Houthis’ conditions were made after talks with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon to thwart the peace negotiations, the sources said.

The sources pointed out that the Yemeni government had not put any conditions on the negotiations, such as the release of political prisoners and individuals under house arrest, including the brother of Mahmoud Al-Sobaihi, the Yemeni defense minister.

Col. Turki Al-Maliki, spokesman for the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, which includes Saudi Arabia, said the Houthis are not serious about the Geneva talks.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Yamani (purple jacket) with the government delegation to Geneva. (Supplied) 

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Yamani said that the government will not wait “indefinitely” for the Houthis to attend the talks.

Sources in Geneva said the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, had met with the Yemeni government delegation to discuss the Houthi no-show, and had been told that talks could not begin until the militia delegation arrived.

Al-Yamani said that divisions within the Houthi militia were hampering peace talks.

“The Houthi representatives’ ridiculous excuses are an attempt to cover up a fundamental issue: The rebel militia is divided over who should represent them in Geneva,” he said.

“There are hawks who, on instructions from Iran, refuse to engage in any peace process. Iran wants to use the Houthi movement as a claw to destabilize and insecure Yemen.”

The Yemeni foreign minister denied reports that the government had given the Houthi delegation an ultimatum.

“We are not setting any deadlines. We came to Geneva at the invitation of UN ... to participate in negotiations to strengthen confidence-building measures,” he said.

A copy of the flight permit was obtained by the Yemeni online newspaper Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni

Kurdish party nominates Iraqi veteran Barham Salih for next president

Updated 1 min 55 sec ago

Kurdish party nominates Iraqi veteran Barham Salih for next president

  • Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the ruling Kurdish parties, selected Salih to take over from Fuad Masum
  • The nomination and election of the president is the second step in the process of forming a government

BAGHDAD: Veteran Kurdish leader Barham Salih has been nominated to be the president of Iraq.

Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the ruling Kurdish parties, selected Salih to take over from Fuad Masum, Kurdish leaders told Arab News on Wednesday.

The nomination and election of the president is the second step in the process of forming a government.

The elected president will then assign the candidate of the largest bloc to the post of prime minister, to form a government.

The rival Shiite-led blocs on Tuesday agreed to nominate Adel Abdul Mahdi, the former vice president, for the post of prime minister.

An initial deal was made by the two heads of the factions to dedicate the parliament session on Sept. 25 to elect the president and assign the nominated prime minister to form a government, negotiators told Arab News.

Salih, who was born in Sulaymaniyah in 1960, is a graduate of American universities and holds a PhD in statistics and data. He headed the Kurdistan Regional Government in 2001, and was one of the deputies of the federal government in 2006. He occupied many ministerial posts in Baghdad and Erbil in the last 15 years. 

“Barham is the sole nominee for the post of president,” Sa’adi Berah, the  PUK spokesman said on Wednesday. “PUK leaders have voted today on this decision after he (Barham) accepted all the conditions of the PUK.”

The relationship between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region dominated by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK), the second ruling Kurdish party, has faltered since September last year when the Kurdistan regional government held an independence referendum.

Baghdad responded by launching a military campaign to push Kurdish forces out of disputed areas they had taken control of in the preceding years. This included the city of Kirkuk - one of Iraq’s main oil producing regions.

Salih, a secular politician, is a moderate and acceptable figure to all political parties and can play an active role in dismantling both the crisis between the Kurdish region and Baghdad, and disputes between the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish political parties inside the Iraqi capital, Shiite negotiators said.

The backing of the Shiite and Sunni parliamentary blocs in Baghdad for Salih’s nomination is crucial to him winning the post as the president needs two thirds of the votes of the 329 members of parliament to be approved.

“Initially we are happy to back Barham for the post as he is calm, pragmatic and has no problems with Arabs,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“We are waiting for them (PUK and DPK) to conclude their decision and officially present his name for us, then we can discuss the other details.”

The US envoy to Iraq and Syria, Brett McGurk, played a key role in restoring Salih to the PUK, which he had split  from in 2017 to form his own coalition. 

McGurk met with Hero Khan, secretary-general of the PUK and wife of the late Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, several times last week at her residence in Sulaymaniyah. 

Khan and her two sons have dominated the leadership council of the PUK since 2013 after Talabani fell ill. McGurk’s efforts were rewarded on Wednesday as Salih won 26 votes of the 40-member PUK leadership council, sources told Arab News.

The post of Iraq’s president falls to the Kurds as part of a power-sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political forces after 2003. 

Salih's candidacy must first be approved by the DPK.

“We have no objection to Barham's nomination for this post. The DPK does not look for this position,” Reibein Salam, a DPK leader told reporters.

“But we have made many concessions in favor of the Kurdish interest and we have to get something in return.

“We want the position of governor of Kirkuk in return. It is not reasonable that PUK gets both posts.”