Can U.N. peace talks in Geneva bring reconciliation to Yemen?

Yemen's exiled President Hadi told Al Arabiya News channel that “there will be no negotiations,” with the Iranian-backed Houthis

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Following nearly two months of Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen, aimed at restoring the legitimacy of President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi, some argue that it seems the Houthi militias still maintain a strong position on the ground.

In recent weeks, Iranian-backed Houthis and supporters of deposed leader Ali Abdullah Saleh made important gains in several Yemeni cities after killing many civilians and frequently attacked the Saudi territory.

Despite the view of some that Houthis have achieved advances on the ground, the Saudi-led coalition says its airstrikes have been successful.


In March, Saudi Arabia launched (and led) a military operation dubbed “Decisive Storm,” with a number of allied Arab countries to support Hadi after he withdrew from the capital Sanaa to Aden.

The coalition of Arab countries, rattled by what the Kingdom sees as an expanding Iranian influence in the Arabian Peninsula, is trying to stop Houthi militias and loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Salah taking control of Yemen.

The Houthi fighting brought civil war to the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country. Sunni tribesmen allied to Hadi were battling Shiite militias backed by deposed President Saleh, who stepped down after 2011 mass protests against his 33 years in office.

General dominance

The latest Houthis advances, which come days before the start of the U.N.-facilitated peace talks in Geneva - due to take place on June 14, may be used by the militias to add pressure on Hadi’s government.

“Houthis, backers of Saleh and their allies are likely to aim to use their general dominance on the ground in Yemen to try to put pressure [on Hadi’s government],” Adam Baron of the European Council on Foreign Relations, who previously reported from Yemen as a journalist, told Al Arabiya News.

“After all, they’ve remained resilient on the battlefield,” Baron added.

However, on a political level, Houthis advances on the ground are not regarded as a pressuring point for Hadi’s government but a violation of U.N. resolutions.

In April, the U.N. strongly condemned the advances saying the “attempts by the Houthis and their allies, to take territory by force and undermine the authority of the legitimate government are in clear violation of Security Council resolutions.”

The Security Council adopted Resolution 2216 requiring Houthis to quit cities and hand over captured weapons.
Baron said he believes the Riyadh-backed Yemeni government will use the U.N. Resolution 2216 as its “trump card” during the talks in Switzerland.

“The Riyadh-based exiled government clearly views U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 as their trump card,” Baron said.

“Government figures have bluntly stated that they will essentially treat 2216 as the basis for any discussions,” he said.

Last week, Yemen's exiled President Hadi told Al Arabiya News channel that “there will be no negotiations,” with the Iranian-backed Houthis.

“It will be just be a discussion about how to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216. We will have a consultation,” Hadi said.

Better position

Charles Schmitz, an expert on the Houthi group and a professor at Towson University told Al Arabiya News, that “no group is in a better position.”

“The Houthi attempt to conquer all of Yemen failed … [They] control most of Yemen, but the country is dying from the naval and air blockade,” Schmitz said.

“Yemeni government in Riyadh risks becoming irrelevant as local forces dominate the resistance and the Hadi government continues its incompetence,” he said.

Schmitz also said that “the Houthis have shown some willingness to a withdrawal from some areas” of Yemen which could establish “channels of communication for the warring factions” and facilitate “a real political settlement” on the long term.

Earlier this month, sources told the London-based news website Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthi movement - backed by deposed Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh and Iran - will withdraw its militias from the southern port city of Aden, as part of initial efforts to reach an agreement with Yemen’s government.


Other analysts seemed less optimistic about a possible real political settlement saying that both factions are not “willing to compromise.”

“I am not optimistic about the upcoming talks,” Max Abrahms, a professor of political science at Northeastern University and member at the Council of Foreign Relations, told Al Arabiya News.

“Negotiations are fruitful when the warring parties are prepared to settle on a mutually acceptable solution. Yet neither Yemen’s exiled president nor the Houthi leadership seems willing to compromise,” Abrahms said.

“Together, these opposing positions foretell a continuation of the bloody conflict,” he said.

Fuad Alsalahi, a political science professor at Sanaa University, told the Yemen Post that he doubts “the Geneva talks will find a practically effective solution to the situation in Yemen because nothing has changed in reality.”

“Yemenis have held talks several times the latest the Riyadh conference last month, in each time, the talks turn to be unproductive," he added.

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