Saudi U.N. envoy optimistic about Yemen talks

Saudi Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi said Houthis had sought to sidestep demands in a U.N. resolution but ‘recently backed down’

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The Saudi ambassador to the United Nations said on Wednesday he was optimistic that a new round of peace talks for Yemen will get off the ground this month after many weeks of preparation.

U.N. envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been laying the groundwork for talks between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Houthi militias who seized the capital Sanaa last year.

"We are optimistic. We are hopeful that the talks will take place," Saudi Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi said at a meeting with leaders of the Yemeni community in the United States.

Mouallimi said Houthi militias had sought to sidestep demands in a U.N. resolution that they withdraw from territory seized in their campaign, but that they had "recently backed down" and were ready to negotiate a pullback.

Saudi Arabia launched an air campaign in March to push back the Houthi offensive.

Yemen's Ambassador Khaled Alyemany said the agenda for the peace talks should be finalized this week and that the U.N. envoy will travel to New York to announce the talks next week.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed told AFP recently that he expected the new round to begin some time between November 10 and 15.

Alyemany said negotiations would focus on a gradual withdrawal from the capital Sanaa and other areas held by the Houthis.

"This is the picture that we have, and it's a positive picture," he said.

A U.N. bid to launch peace talks in June failed over demands for a Houthi withdrawal from seized territory, but this time, much effort has been put in ensuring there is agreement on the agenda.

The Huthis overran Sanaa in September 2014 and went on to battle for control of several regions, aided by renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In July, loyalist forces backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, evicted the rebels from five southern provinces, and have since set their sights on the capital.

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