Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Dhahran understandings

The failure to start negotiations in Kuwait while talks in Dhahran between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia proceed puts in question Ali Abdullah Saleh’s role moving forward, writes Ahmed Eleiba

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Yemeni negotiations did not begin 18 April in Kuwait as scheduled because the Houthi/Saleh delegation was late. The Yemeni government delegation, which had arrived in Kuwait on time, was angered by the tardiness of the Houthi/Saleh delegation after the many positive signals it had issued from Riyadh, where the Yemeni presidency and government are temporarily based. Deputy Yemeni Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Abdul-Malak Al-Makhlaqi remarked, “We will remain in Kuwait until the talks are convened in order to spare the lives of the Yemeni people.”

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly by phone from Sanaa, a source close to the delegation of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh attributed the delay to two causes. The first was that some members of the delegation held that they could not go to Kuwait when the ceasefire had not yet taken hold on several fronts. In spite of an agreement struck to put a ceasefire into effect at midnight on Sunday night-Monday morning, military activities were still continuing in Taiz, Jawf and Mareb. “There appears to be what they call a graduated ceasefire process on those fronts as opposed to an immediate ceasefire,” the source remarked. He added there were still differences between the two sides over this issue, although he did not go into detail apart from saying, “The coalition’s war planes are still circling in the air.”

The second cause, according to the source, was that a plane had not come to take the Houthi and Saleh delegations to Kuwait. The delegations had expected that a plane would be supplied by the UN, Oman, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait to transport them to the location where the negotiations were scheduled.

The negotiations are expected to revolve around five points, which represent the essence of UN Security Council Resolution 2216. These are: first, the unconditional withdrawal of all militias and armed group from all cities; second, the surrender of arms, especially heavy weapons, to the government as represented by the organisation of the General Chiefs-of-Staffs of the national army; third, the creation of an extraordinary commission to ensure the safety of areas vacated by the militias; fourth, the handover by the militias of all government institutions to the legitimate Yemeni government; and fifth, the creation of a committee to examine the question of prisoners and detainees and to oversee their release.

The source close to the Saleh delegation told the Weekly that the joint Houthi-Saleh delegation had an agenda that it intended to propose during the talks. He explained that there was general agreement over the broad outlines and that committees would be formed to oversee implementation of the outputs of the Kuwait meeting, but that the “agenda” concerned “details that fall under the headings of these outlines”.

He added that several changes would be made in the composition of the Houthi and Saleh delegations and that their members would not be exactly the same as those that went to Geneva 1 and 2.

Another source, close to the Houthi group, told the Weekly by phone from Sanaa that the talks that Saudi Arabia had initiated with the Houthis were still in progress in Dhahran. Describing the talks as “fruitful”, he added that the second round of prisoner exchanges had taken place, leading to the release of 30 Houthi prisoners.

According to sources from both sides, the talks in Dhahran involve only the Houthis and Riyadh. Nevertheless, a source from Ali Abdullah Saleh’s office told the Weekly: “We have been kept fully informed on those talks and their various details and documents. However, only the Houthis will sign (anything transpiring from the talks).” Although this source suggests that the partners of the Houthi and Saleh coalition have agreed that the talks with Riyadh could proceed without Saleh, many observers see those talks as an attempt by Riyadh to eliminate Saleh from the scene, or at least to drive a wedge between him and the Houthis.

The former Yemeni president and his party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), is focussing on details regarding the future of this party and its prospective share in the interim government. First, five technical committees need to be created to settle the details of the agreement struck in Kuwait and then the necessary executive, follow-through and supervisory committees will have to be formed. The tasks of these various committees are likely last several months, if not a year, as they will ultimately have to lay the groundwork and generate an appropriate climate for talks between Yemen’s many political factions.

Huge gulfs remain between many of these factions, especially between the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood (as represented by the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, more familiarily known as the Islah Party) and the Saleh/Houthi coalition. In fact, it is not yet certain whether Islah will participate in the negotiations in its own capacity or as a member of the Mushtarak (Joint Meeting Parties, or JMP), an alliance of opposition parties that existed before the February 2011 Revolution.

What appears certain at this stage is that the southerners also have their sights set on Kuwait. A drive has been set into motion in the south led by former South Yemen presidents Ali Nasser Mohamed and Ali Salem Al-Beid, and by Abdel-Rahman Al-Jifri, head of the Arab South Group and as a prelude the Southern Movement will stage a series of demonstrations. Speaking to the Weekly by phone from Aden, Southern Movement member Abdel-Hakim Mahmoud said that the three abovementioned leaders had signed an agreement on a “bi-regional” project, a draft version of which has been sent to the negotiating committee in Kuwait.

The southerners “want to reserve a seat for themselves” at the negotiating table, the Weekly’s sources in Sanaa said. However, they added, those seats would probably only become available at a later stage, most likely when it comes time to discuss procedural matters before the interim phase comes into effect. A source from the Saleh team stressed, “We are not in favour of dismantling the bond with the south. The GPC has always taken this view and wants to adhere to it. The GPC believes that unity is a fixed and un-renounceable national principle.”

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