No peace deal in Yemen in sight despite prisoner swap talks

Hopes for new round of peace talks had been revived with direct talks. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 September 2020

No peace deal in Yemen in sight despite prisoner swap talks

  • 1,420 prisoners set to released in first stage

AL-MUKALLA: For the first time since February, the Yemeni government and Houthi representatives will be meeting in Geneva on Friday or Saturday to discuss final touches to the prisoner swap deal.

The direct talks revived hopes that the trust-building discussions would not only see hundreds of prisoners released, but pave the way for a new round of peace talks between the warring sides that could end the war.

Majed Fadhail, deputy minister of human rights and a member of the government delegation, told Arab News that the discussions would be built on previous talks in Amman in February when both sides agreed to swap hundreds of prisoners.

“The first stage will see 1,420 prisoners released,” he said, adding that all prisoners, including senior government military and civilian figures and other detainees in Houthi prisoners, would be released in later stages.

If the talks succeed in freeing the prisoners it could smooth the way for more trust-building steps brokered by the UN Yemen Envoy Martin Griffiths, Yemen experts say. Griffiths has said many times that his priority is convincing the warring sides in Yemen to accept his proposal for a cease-fire deal that would stop hostilities on battlefields and open humanitarian corridors across the country.

However, some Yemeni experts are pessimistic about peace prospects in Yemen given the continued intensive military operations on the ground.

Saleh Al-Baydani, a Yemeni political analyst, told Arab News on Thursday that the prisoner talks could face the fate of previous negotiations that faltered when the Iran-backed Houthis refused to release senior commanders and government officials.

The Houthis insisted on swapping their fighters with ordinary people they had abducted in Sanaa and other areas under their control.

“The main reason for the failure of the (previous) prisoner exchange agreement, although it is the least complex file, is because of the Houthis’ insistence on handing over civilian detainees who were kidnapped from homes in exchange for the government of Yemen releasing their PoW fighters who can return to the battlefield the next day,” Al-Baydani said. He added that there should be strong guarantees from the UN that the Houthis would stop detaining people if the prisoner swap succeeded.

Citing an escalation in fighting, a worsening humanitarian crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Yemen envoy said during his last briefing to the UN Security Council that the country was moving away from peace.

“Earlier this year, I warned that Yemen was at a critical juncture. I said either the guns would fall silent and the political process would resume, or Yemen would slip back away from that road to peace, and alas, this is exactly what seems to be happening,” the UN Yemen envoy said.

Al-Baydani agreed with the UN envoy’s statement, saying that the time was not ripe for peace talks because of the Houthi determination to seize control of new areas in northern Yemen, including the strategic city of Marib.

“I do not think the atmosphere is ready for any political settlement. It seems that accelerating military transformations will impose themselves in the final solution in Yemen,” he said.

Despite local and international calls for stopping their offensive against the densely populated city of Marib, the Houthis renewed their pledges to capture the city. On Wednesday, Gen. Jalal Al-Rowaishan, a Houthi minister, told a local affiliate newspaper that the movement was determined to expel government forces from Marib despite coming under huge international pressure.

The UN envoy has previously warned that fighting in Marib would pose a grave threat to tens of thousands of people who sought refuge in the city, adding that it would be impossible to reach a compressive agreement in Yemen if the Houthis seized control of Marib.

“If Marib falls, simply put, this would undermine prospects of convening an inclusive political process that brings about a transition based on partnership and plurality,” Griffiths said. Analysts believe that the mood of the Houthis is not for peace and that they are racing against time to secure Marib before international pressure increases.

“The attack on Marib is an attempt to control the last bastion of the legitimate government in northern Yemen, preempt any international pressure to stop the war in Yemen and a comprehensive settlement initiative proposed by Griffiths,” Al-Baydani said.

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.