Yemen’s Houthi rebels have tentatively welcomed next week’s UN-proposed peace talks in Geneva, but the debate on who will attend the meeting is far from over, with Saudi Arabia saying that Iran should not be invited.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday announced the talks between warring Yemeni parties to end nearly two months of air strikes carried out by an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Officials from the Shia Houthi rebels and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s exiled government made generally positive remarks following the announcement – but both sides announced conditions for attending the talks.
Yemen’s UN Ambassador Khaled Alyemany said the government will be represented at a high level, perhaps by the vice president.
However, a top Hadi aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, reiterated earlier government demands that the Houthis first pull out of towns and cities they captured. He said the government would not give up its condition for the talks, according to the AP news agency.
Houthi stresses ‘dialogue’
Meanwhile, Houthi leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi said in a speech on Wednesday that the Houthis attendance required a commitment by parties to a controversial agreement made after the rebel group took control of the capital Sanaa in September.
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“The only way to solve the political problem is dialogue in a neutral country over what has been agreed upon in advance in the peace and partnership agreement,” Houthi said.
Houthi gave no indication his forces would heed the demands to withdraw and instead called for new recruits and new training camps.
What other countries and stakeholders will attend the talks is also still unclear.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, said on Wednesday that he did not believe Iran should be invited.
“[Iran] is part of the problem, not part of the solution. I don’t see any reason for Iran to be present there.
“It is not a member for the GCC or the Arab League, Iran is not a neighbouring country to Yemen. It should simply stop its interference with Yemen and stay away from Yemen.”
The Arab coalition and the US say that Iran supports the Houthis in Yemen, a claim rejected by the Tehran government various times.
The Arab coalition has been bombing Houthi forces since March 26 in a bid to restore Hadi to power after the Houthis forced him to flee the country. The UN says the conflict has killed more than 1,800 people.