Yemen conflict cannot be settled through violence, UN envoy tells Arab News

Yemen conflict cannot be settled through violence, UN envoy tells Arab News
People shop for fresh produce in an open-air market in Yemen's third city of Taiz on October 4, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2022

Yemen conflict cannot be settled through violence, UN envoy tells Arab News

Yemen conflict cannot be settled through violence, UN envoy tells Arab News
  • Hans Grundberg: Recent Saudi-Houthi talks welcome, engagements at different levels needed in push for peace
  • Since truce expiration, Houthis have launched several drone attacks on Yemeni ports that drew world condemnation

NEW YORK: The UN special envoy for Yemen on Tuesday told Arab News that any attempt to settle the country’s conflict through violence is “unhelpful,” and that a long-term settlement can only be achieved through direct negotiations.

Hans Grundberg was commenting on the Houthi militia’s several drone attacks in the past two months that targeted Yemeni government ports, including one that hit a Greek oil tanker near Al-Dubba oil terminal in Hadramawt governorate.

The Houthis justified the attack as a warning to the government not to use the terminal to export oil. The UN Security Council condemned the attacks.

Similar drone attacks later targeted the Rudum oil terminal, and then the southern Qena port in Shabwah governorate.

This resulted in further condemnation from the UNSC, which called on the Houthis to renew the truce they had abandoned.

Grundberg, who had also condemned these attacks, described the Houthi escalation as “part of the overall elements of the conflict.”

He told Arab News: “My point here is that this conflict needs to be settled through negotiations. And that’s why any attempt to settle the conflict through violent exchange, no matter how that violent exchange takes place, is unhelpful, especially given the fact that we’ve seen a conflict that has lasted for seven to eight years.

“More violence isn’t going to lead to a long-term settlement. That can only be achieved through negotiations, and that’s what we’re pushing for and hope to achieve at a certain moment.”

Grundberg’s comments followed a UNSC meeting on Yemen during which he briefed member states on the latest developments in the war-torn country.

He warned council members that Houthi attacks in recent weeks, by depriving the Yemeni government of its main source of revenue from exporting oil, “have significant economic repercussions.”

He added: “Attacks on oil infrastructure and threats to oil companies undermine the welfare of the entirety of the Yemeni people (and risk) setting off a spiral of military and economic escalation, (and) are prohibited by international humanitarian law.” 

Grundberg also underscored that what he called “a concerning uptick” in incidents in Marib and Taiz, including civilian casualties, demonstrate how fragile the situation remains. 

He again called on parties to “urgently reach an agreement to renew the truce,” and meanwhile “exercise maximum restraint during this critical time.”  

Even though the violent flareups “fortunately” have not escalated into full-fledged war, Grundberg warned that further deterioration of the economic and humanitarian situations hang in the balance. 

Since the two-month UN-brokered truce expired on Oct. 2, the UN has intensified its efforts to try to revive it, while also pushing for a comprehensive settlement.

Grundberg has in the past two months visited Riyadh twice — meeting with Yemeni government and Saudi officials — and Oman, where he met with senior Omani officials and the chief Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam. However, these talks have not produced any breakthroughs.

In the run up to the truce’s expiration, Grundberg had proposed a plan for the extension and expansion of the agreement, which entailed the payment of civil servants’ salaries and pensions.

The Houthis’ demand that their military and security forces be included in the salary payments of civil servants prevented agreement on the deal.

As Grundberg continued with his shuttle diplomacy, there have also been reports of direct talks over the past weeks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, including some facilitated by Oman.

Last month, a Houthi delegation visited the Saudi city of Abha, and a Saudi delegation went to Sanaa.

The Arab Coalition said the delegations visited prisoners of war as part of a confidence-building measure geared toward extending the truce.

“Any direct contact between belligerent parties in any conflict is welcome,” Grundberg told Arab News. “(It) should be encouraged that the parties should talk to each other. Obviously, that can be done in different ways. But what we’re looking for here is an approach which, in the end, requires a process under the UN auspices.

“So any talks that are carried out in support of my efforts are always welcome. And this is something that I repeat to the countries in the region, I repeat to the council, and so on, and this is what we’re having right now.

“We have different engagements on different levels, through different channels that support the efforts of the United Nations, and that’s something that I think is helpful.”

Asked to clarify what obstacles are hampering the implementation of his plan to “extend and expand” the truce, Grundberg declined to reveal details of talks that took place behind closed doors, saying although “foreign policy should be made in the open because the population needs to understand what that foreign policy represents, negotiations, on the other hand, should be kept in a discrete setting.

“So I’m not going to enter into outlining the issues in detail on where we stand on these negotiations, because that needs some level of trust and confidentiality in order to deliver results.”

But he said on a broader level,  the main challenges lie in finding ways to frame issues related to economic matters such as the payment of salaries, but also broader issues “which have an implication on the long-term settlement of the conflict.”

By emphasizing the importance of “broadening” the issue, Grundberg said: “It’s a way for me to remind everyone that the truce in itself isn’t the end game. It can’t be seen as the long-term solution.

“The long-term solution is a return to a political process where the parties engage on long-term settlement of the conflict.

“That necessitates a broader approach, and that’s what we’re also looking for and engaging with the parties on.”


China can help bring end to Yemen war, says official

China can help bring end to Yemen war, says official
Updated 8 sec ago

China can help bring end to Yemen war, says official

China can help bring end to Yemen war, says official
  • Beijing can persuade Tehran to stop supporting Houthis, government analyst tells Arab News

RIYADH: Yemeni experts and officials have called on China to do more to help bring an end to the country’s civil war by helping peace talks and by increasing economic and humanitarian aid.

“Yemen needs China’s assistance,” Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry and a political analyst, told Arab News.

“Achieving peace in Yemen is in China’s interest because it will revitalize Yemen’s ports, which would aid China’s Belt and Road Initiative and open the nation to Chinese businesses.” 

His comments come as Rashad Al-Alimi, the leader of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, is traveling to Riyadh to attend an Arab-Chinese summit on Friday.

Ghallab said that can press Iran to cease supplying and funding its proxy militias across the Middle East, including Yemen. “China can persuade Iran to stop supporting its organizations, particularly the Houthis in Yemen,” he said.

The UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg’s efforts to end the war have come to a standstill after the Houthis refused to extend a ceasefire that ended in October, and threatened to strike oil infrastructure in regions under government control. 

The Houthis have said they would not extend the ceasefire until the government pays public workers in regions the group controls.

Al-Alimi is expected to update President Xi Jinping on Houthi efforts to thwart peace, and to request Chinese assistance to end the conflict and aid Yemen’s recovery.

China has taken a neutral stance from the warring parties for almost a decade but backed international peace measures to bring an end to the conflict.

Beijing typically expresses support for the UN-led efforts to end the war and urges the internationally recognized government of Yemen and the Iran-backed Houthis to achieve peace. 

In 2011, China backed the GCC-brokered peace initiative that led to the removal of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh after major demonstrations inspired by the Arab Spring. 

It voted in favor of UN Security Council Resolution 2216 in 2015, which condemned the Houthi takeover and reduced penalties on Houthi leaders and Ahmed Saleh, the son of the former president’s son.

Samuel Ramani, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told Arab News, however said that Beijing has maintained a pragmatic and impartial approach to the conflict to retain connections with regional powers, including Iran.

“China wants to balance positive relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, and likely views detachment from the Yemen war as the most effective means of preserving good relations with all regional powers,” he said.

“China is very selective in its engagement in conflict resolution in the Middle East and is unlikely to transfer its somewhat more assertive role in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace to the Yemeni theatre.”

He added that for the time being, its role will be limited to areas that do not indicate support for any group, such as humanitarian aid and economic investment.


Lebanon MPs again fail to fill vacant presidency

Lebanon MPs again fail to fill vacant presidency
Updated 11 min 35 sec ago

Lebanon MPs again fail to fill vacant presidency

Lebanon MPs again fail to fill vacant presidency
  • Ninth session to elect president: Hezbollah opponent Moawad’s votes are equal to ‘blank’ votes
  • Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterates calls for dialogue among MPs to find consensus candidate 

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s divided parliament failed to elect a new president on Thursday for a ninth time, with many MPs spoiling their ballots, including one who cast a vote for “Nelson Mandela.”

Hezbollah opponent Michel Moawad won the support of 39 MPs, but fell well short of the required majority.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri adjourned the session and announced a new meeting next Thursday, the last session for 2022.

Berri reiterated calls for dialogue among MPs to find a consensus candidate to prevent the process dragging on for months.

Only 105 of 128 MPs showed up for the vote on Thursday and many of them spoilt their ballots.

For the first time, and after eight parliamentary sessions, the number of blank ballots cast by Hezbollah and its allies was equal to the number of votes received by Mouawad.

This tie came against the backdrop of the dispute that arose between Hezbollah and its Christian ally in Lebanon, the Free Patriotic Movement, since the Cabinet session last Monday.

According to a parliamentary observer, the FPM decided to stop casting blank ballots as before and distribute its votes in a calculated manner.

Although the session failed to elect a president, the FPM’s move sent a calculated message to Hezbollah on its open decisions by leaking some of its deputies’ votes in favor of Mouawad, thereby reducing the number of blank votes, the observer said.

The winning candidate requires at least 86 votes in the first round of voting, and an absolute majority of 65 votes in subsequent rounds.

The parliament again failed to hold a second round for loss of quorum after the withdrawal of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and MPs from other blocs.

Nine MPs voted for “The New Lebanon,” five for Issam Khalifeh and three for the customs chief Badri Daher, who is in detention in relation to the investigation into the Beirut port explosion.

Former deputy Ziad Baroud, legal expert and candidate Salah Honein, and activist and candidate Fawzi Bou Malhab received one vote each.

One vote contained the inscription “For Lebanon,” and another “the agreement.” One vote was cast for “Nelson Mandela,” in addition to canceled votes.

The results of the ballot showed that the FPM deputies amounting to 17 chose their options carefully, as they did not direct all their votes toward Mouawad.

Some votes containing the inscriptions “Mouawad,” “Michel” and “Mouawad Badri Daher” were annulled, among others.

Hezbollah and the FPM deputies did not give any statement after the session, but engaged in a quick side talk.

The Amal Movement MPs avoided discussing the dispute between Hezbollah and the FPM.

MP Ali Hassan Khalil said every party should review its stances, so “we can move forward with this dialogue.”

He said: “We are keen on preserving the relationships between the political forces and we don’t intervene in this matter.

“Everyone should know that the only way to overcome this crisis is through dialogue and communication.”

Mouawad said that “what happened emphasized the solid stances of the blocs voting for me. Some wanted to send a message but they cannot keep doing so till the end. What is happening is disgusting.”

The MP said that he is refusing to get caught up in what he calls “the votes exchange.”

He said: “What is needed is a sovereign president and not a consensual one in the negative sense.”

The dispute between Hezbollah and the FPM has deteriorated to this point for the first time.

A few hours before the parliamentary session, Hezbollah issued a statement in response to Gebran Bassil’s harsh criticism of the party, accusing it of failing to fulfill its promises.

The accusation came against the backdrop of Hezbollah’s participation in the Cabinet’s session seen by the FPM as an illegal way to take over the presidential prerogatives.

Hezbollah affirmed in its statement that the party did not promise anyone that the cabinet won’t convene unless upon the approval of all its components, and therefore, there was no reason for Bassil to consider this move a broken promise.”

The statement added: “Hezbollah didn’t promise the FPM that it won’t attend the Cabinet’s urgent meetings if the ministers of the party (the FPM) boycott it.”

Hezbollah said that “using the language of betrayel and distrust is an unwise and inappropriate behavior.”

Hezbollah said “what Lebanon needs today is communication and dialogue.”

Lebanon has been quick to confirm the safety of Rafik Hariri International Airport and those traveling through it.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said that they will continue to “combat smuggling at all border crossings in cooperation with all security and military bodies.”

He made the remarks after inspecting the airport security service and meeting with officers on Thursday.

The visit followed a report on Al-Arabiya–Al-Hadath channel that security sources warned that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were using Iranian airline Meraj flights to transport weapons and equipment to Hezbollah.

Regarding the landing of Iranian airline flights linked to the Revolutionary Guards at Beirut airport, Mawlawi said: “We are keen on enforcing the laws and protecting Lebanon.”

Fadi Al-Hassan, Lebanon’s Civil Aviation director-general, denied the claims.

Al-Hassan said the timing of the “baseless” report harmed the airport’s reputation.

The Meraj company is not affiliated with any party, he said.

The airline operated its first flight to Beirut’s international airport on Nov. 14, and meets all the security requirements, Al-Hassan said.

David Hill, former US assistant secretary of state, met with Berri in other developments.

Hill said in a statement that the situation in Lebanon was not hopeless and that political will is needed to carry out reforms.


Egypt says it is not at risk of bankruptcy

Egypt says it is not at risk of bankruptcy
Updated 32 min 48 sec ago

Egypt says it is not at risk of bankruptcy

Egypt says it is not at risk of bankruptcy
  • Cabinet says external debt structure is positive amid rising inflation
  • The Cabinet added that Egypt aimed to maintain fiscal discipline and reduce the budget deficit to 5.6 percent of GDP

CAIRO: Egypt’s government has rejected claims that the country is exposed to bankruptcy risk due to its debts and the cost of servicing them during rate rises and inflation.
It also cited a report on the performance of the Egyptian economy from June to November.
The Cabinet said Egypt’s ratio of external debt to GDP was 34.1 percent, below the maximum risk limit of 50 percent.
The report said the structure and diversity of Egypt’s external debt instruments including loans, deposits, issued bonds and short-term credit facilities, were positive.
The Cabinet said that most of Egypt’s external debt was medium and long-term. Around two-thirds of foreign debt was also at fixed interest rates — which mitigates the risks of international rate increases.
It added: “In light of the successive economic crises that the world witnessed during the previous periods, governments all over the world tended to adopt expansionary economic policies to mitigate the consequences of the negative effects of these economic crises on families and companies.
“Such policies led to a significant rise in levels of global indebtedness, which rose to a record 350 percent of the global GDP by the end of the second quarter of 2022.”
The Cabinet added that Egypt aimed to maintain fiscal discipline, reduce the budget deficit to 5.6 percent of GDP, and achieve the first surplus from the state’s general budget permanently at 0.2 percent of the GDP.
These measures would contribute to reducing indebtedness and achieving financial and economic stability for the country’s general budget and ensure safety for current and future generations, said the statement.
The Cabinet statement came as Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics announced on Thursday that the general index of consumer prices rose by 2.5 percent to 140.7 points in November.
The annual inflation rate in November rose to 19.2 percent, compared to 16.3 percent in October, said an agency statement.
The annual inflation rate in urban areas rose during November to 18.7 percent, compared to 16.2 percent in October.
The agency’s statement attributed the rise to prices increase for bread and grain by 52.1 percent, meat and poultry by 30.3 percent, fish and seafood by 38 percent, dairy products and eggs by 40 percent, and coffee and tea by 23.1 percent.
It also cited price increases in tobacco products by 0.3 percent, clothing by 2.1 percent, footwear by 1.3 percent, home furnishings by 2.6 percent, and appliances by 3.1 percent.


US climate envoy hails holding COP28 in UAE

US climate envoy hails holding COP28 in UAE
Updated 49 min 15 sec ago

US climate envoy hails holding COP28 in UAE

US climate envoy hails holding COP28 in UAE
  • Fossil fuel economies should be encouraged to lead the transition to clean energy, says John Kerry

WASHINGTON: The US has hailed the decision to hold next year’s 28th UN climate change conference in the UAE.
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said that fossil fuel economies should be encouraged to lead the transition to clean energy, the Emirates News Agency reported on Thursday.
“It’s very exciting that the UAE, an OPEC member, is going to host COP28, and it’s so important that you have an oil and gas producing nation step up and say we understand the challenge of the climate crisis,” he told Reuters.
“The UAE leadership has taken very smart steps because they know that what’s coming out of the ground is not forever, either physically or politically, and they’re looking at what the new world is going to look like.”
“If there are going to be new forms of energy, they want to be among the providers of it, just as they are today.”
Kerry said that this year’s COP27 conference, held last month in Egypt, nudged the world closer to the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial times.
He praised the announcement of 30 upgraded national climate plans along with the summit’s headline agreement on “loss and damage” to help vulnerable countries reeling from climate-driven extreme weather and rising seas.


US imposes sanctions on Turkish businessman, citing links to Iran’s Quds Force

US imposes sanctions on Turkish businessman, citing links to Iran’s Quds Force
Updated 08 December 2022

US imposes sanctions on Turkish businessman, citing links to Iran’s Quds Force

US imposes sanctions on Turkish businessman, citing links to Iran’s Quds Force

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration on Thursday is set to impose sanctions on prominent Turkish businessman Sitki Ayan and his network of companies, accusing him of acting as a facilitator for oil sales and money laundering on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
According to a Treasury statement due to be released later on Thursday and seen by Reuters, Ayan’s companies have established international sales contracts for Iranian oil, arranged shipments and helped launder the proceeds and obscured the origin of the Iranian oil on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force, an arm of the IRGC.
“Ayan has established business contracts to sell Iranian oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars to buyers,” in China and Europe, the statement says, adding that he then funneled the proceeds back to the Quds Force.
Ayan’s son Bahaddin Ayan, his associate Kasim Oztas and another individual will also be designated, along with at least two dozen companies including his ASB Group of Companies, a Gibraltar-based holding company.
The Treasury action will freeze any US assets of those designated and generally bar Americans from dealing with them. Those that engage in certain transactions would also risk being hit with sanctions.
The US measures come at a time when ties between the United States and Turkiye are strained over a host of issues, including disagreement over Syria policy and Ankara’s purchase of Russian air defense systems.
Most recently, Washington has warned Turkiye to refrain from carrying out a military incursion into northern Syria after Ankara said it was preparing a possible ground invasion against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia that it views as terrorists but who make up the bulk of US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Washington maintains sweeping sanctions on Iran and has looked for ways to increase pressure as efforts to resurrect a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran have stalled.
US President Joe Biden had sought to negotiate the return of Iran to the nuclear deal after former President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018.
The 2015 agreement limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms in return for lifting international sanctions. Iran denies wanting to acquire nuclear weapons.