Still so far away

Over the weekend, the warring sides in Yemen came about as close as they’ve come yet to an agreement to end that country’s ~16 month long civil war, but talks in Kuwait appeared to collapse yesterday when negotiators for the Houthi-Ali Abdullah Saleh side rejected a UN peace plan, and the negotiators for Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi’s government decided to leave Kuwait in response. Hadi’s negotiators insisted that they were just leaving Kuwait, not the talks (I’m not sure what that distinction means, but let’s roll with it), and said that they’d return to Kuwait immediately if the Houthi-Saleh faction were to change its mind. But that seems unlikely, largely because the main sticking point really is a hell of a sticking point:

U.N. envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed proposed that the government’s foes in the armed Houthi movement quit three main cities they hold, including the capital Sanaa. Under this plan, new talks would then be convened on forming a government that would include the Houthis, delegates said.

The Houthis dismissed the U.N. proposal as a non-starter on Sunday, saying in a statement that any agreement would need to be comprehensive and not postpone a resolution on major issues.

The UN is pushing a stopgap measure that would require the Houthis pull back to their northern highlands base and give up the territory they still hold even after months of Saudi-Hadi aerial assaults and counterattacks. In return, the Houthis would get an end to the fighting and talks on a national unity government in which they would be represented. The Houthis, meanwhile, rejected the idea of a stopgap agreement and are insisting that everything has to be settled before they’ll withdraw from the cities they’ve taken. On the one hand you can understand why they’d be reluctant to give up their leverage before the real talks even start; on the other, the Hadi side can now say, as they have, that “the ball now is in the court of the Houthis,” meaning that they’re the ones–not Hadi, not Riyadh, but the Houthis–who are blocking a peace that Yemen desperately needs. At any rate, while I am no expert in conflict resolution, the gulf between “let’s just stop the fighting and worry about the problems later” and “we need to solve all the problems before we can stop fighting” seems like a pretty wide one.

Hadi’s post-war status is also a sticking point, similar to how Bashar al-Assad’s future remains a sticking point for any negotiations to end Syria’s civil war. The Houthis want Hadi gone before the transitional government is in place, which seems like a non-starter for Hadi and the UN (which, presumably, would prefer to address Hadi’s future in the talks that it promises will take place after the Houthis withdraw).

As far as the fighting is concerned, it seems like it’s still largely stalemated. The Turkish Anadolu Agency, which is state-run but it’s not immediately clear to me why that would color their reporting on Yemen, is reporting that the Houthis have seized a district in southern Taiz, giving them control over most of that part of the province. On the other hand, the Gulf News, a UAE publication that may well be inclined to shade its coverage in a pro-Hadi direction, is reporting that an attempted Houthi offensive in Shabwa province has been stopped by Hadi’s forces with Saudi air support.



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