Prospects grow for Yemen talks in Sweden next week

US Senate advances measure to cut support for Saudi-led coalition, in rebuke to Trump

Yemeni pro-government forces tanks near Mukalla airport, southwest Yemen. Photograph: Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP/Getty Images

Yemeni pro-government forces tanks near Mukalla airport, southwest Yemen. Photograph: Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP/Getty Images

 

Yemen’s warring parties suggested on Thursday that they would attend UN-sponsored peace talks expected to be held in Sweden next week as western countries press for an end to a conflict that has pushed millions to the edge of starvation.

The United Nations is trying to reconvene talks between the Saudi-backed government led by Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Iranian-aligned Houthis, who control much of the north, to agree on a framework for peace.

A previous attempt to hold talks in Geneva in September collapsed when the Houthis failed to show up, accusing their adversaries of obstruction.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said their delegation would arrive in Sweden on December 3rd “if safe exit and return is guaranteed and there are positive indications peace is a priority”.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV said Mr Hadi’s delegation would arrive after the Houthis.

Outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has increased scrutiny of Riyadh’s activities in the region, potentially giving western powers, which provide arms and intelligence to the Saudi-led military coalition trying to restore Mr Hadi to power, greater leverage to demand action.

The attempt to convene Yemen talks in September collapsed after the Houthis asked for guarantees that their aircraft would not be inspected. They also wanted to evacuate some wounded to Oman.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt has said Saudi Arabia is willing to evacuate the wounded Houthis. Kuwait has offered to provide planes to get both sides to Stockholm.

The United Nations hopes to halt fighting around Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial imports and vital aid supplies, as a stepping stone to a broader ceasefire.

The Saudi-led coalition renewed its offensive to capture the port this month; the United Nations fears that an all-out attack could lead to a famine in Yemen, where an estimated 8.4 million people are threatened with starvation.

Senate vote

Separately on Wednesday the US Senate delivered a significant rebuke to the Trump administration by defying the advice of its top officials and advancing a measure that would cut US military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The Republican-majority chamber voted 63-37 to allow the measure, which invokes the War Powers Resolution, stopping all involvement of US armed forces in the Yemen war, to proceed to the floor of the Senate for a vote, which is expected next week.

The bipartisan measure was introduced by the Independent senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Republican senator Mike Lee and Democrat Chris Murphy. It may yet be significantly amended, it would not stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates and it would face an uphill challenge to be passed by the House of Representatives.

But the moment represented a highly symbolic act of defiance, coming a few hours after the administration had wheeled out two of its biggest guns, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and defence secretary James Mattis to brief the entire Senate on the essential importance to US national security of US support for the Saudi-led coalition.

It also marked an assertion of Congress’s constitutional prerogative to decide whether the country goes to war – and an expression of alarm over the actions of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. – Reuters/Guardian