Path to Yemen peace has been carefully laid

The building blocks are in place for a political solution but there is much at stake

FILE PHOTO: People gather at a United Nations aid distribution center in Hodeidah, Yemen November 13, 2018.  Picture taken November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo
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If there were any obstacles to finding a pathway to peace in Yemen, they are being systematically dismantled, one by one.

A provisional date has been set for early December for all parties in the three-year conflict to meet on neutral territory in Sweden.

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths is in the capital Sanaa and is expected to meet Houthi rebels in Hodeidah tomorrow. The Saudi-led coalition and the US have both pledged their commitment to a political solution to bring an end to the three-year conflict. Kuwait has offered to provide air transport to all factions to ensure they meet for initial peace talks in Stockholm and Mr Griffiths has offered to accompany the Iran-backed Houthis to Sweden.

There is a momentum and a will, both regionally and from the international community, to bring to an end the suffering of millions of Yemenis in a country on the brink of widespread famine.

There are no quick fixes to a war which has raged since 2015 and claimed the lives of more than 80,000 children.

As Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation said, the talks in Sweden are a first step on a long and as yet unforeseen path. “Stockholm talks may not be the last round of negotiations,” he warned, “but we hope it would be a basis for more serious talks from the Houthis.”

Indeed, these are but the initial building blocks for a framework for peace, but they are essential groundwork and the furthest all parties have travelled in terms of meeting on a level playing field and agreeing to co-operate. Mr Griffiths faces a precarious task ahead.

The slightest provocation could set back negotiations and worsen an already dire situation before that critical point in December arrives.

It is up to him and international partners like the US to steer a course for all factions to ensure they halt hostilities and take part in mediation talks.

They might not agree once there – but sitting down to negotiate is further than they have been along this road. In September, the Houthis failed to show up for peace talks in Geneva, the second time they have refused to appear.

A brief respite in fighting this week gave hope that they realise the urgency of peace efforts, with the spectre of a humanitarian catastrophe and economic collapse looming large over the country.

The rebels are now confronted with a stark choice, as the International Crisis Group pointed out this week: be complicit in widespread devastation, from which it would take a generation to recover, or act in the best interests of the Yemenis in territories under their control.

Fourteen million people – half the population – are at risk of famine. With such a binary choice, a diplomatic solution is the only realistic and humane way out.