UAE Minister of State for International Co-operation Reem Al Hashimy held talks in Washington with UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths on Wednesday, as efforts intensified to find a political solution for the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, which she said could provide “an opening” for a larger settlement to the Yemen war.
Ms Al Hashimy started her visit to the US capital by meeting Mr Griffiths before heading to Congress to brief members on the Arab Coalition's humanitarian efforts to help restore the internationally recognised government and push for a political solution in Yemen.
Improving the humanitarian situation, easing the handover of Hodeidah to the government forces in Yemen, and implementing UN resolution 2216 are the focus of the talks.
Mr Griffiths has engaged in months of shuttle diplomacy between Sanaa, Muscat, Amman, New York and now Washington in an effort to spare the city of Hodeidah a military battle between the government forces backed by the Arab Coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Speaking at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Ms Al Hashimy said her visit was to "primarily speak to relevant stakeholders about current humanitarian situation in Yemen, and what the UAE is doing to improve it".
“The continuous haemorrhage is appalling” she said.
Referring to her meeting with Mr Griffiths, the senior minister said: "We are very keen on the special envoy role to put forward a peace plan for Yemen."
“We feel he is onto something that may help us to develop a framework that would help Yemen as a whole.”
Ms Al Hashimy criticised continued Houthi violations of international law, the planting of landmines, and putting civilians' lives at risk.
Asked by The National about Mr Griffiths' efforts, Ms Al Hashimy said that the Arab Coalition is asking "for complete unconditional withdrawal for the Houthis from the Hodeidah port and the city."
If such an outcome is achieved, it could provide “an opening” for a larger settlement to the Yemen war.
Ms Al Hashimy said: “We want a stable Yemen that is not a proxy to others...that would create a Hezbollah” or “endanger international maritime security”.
The minister did not specify a deadline for the peace talks, but said that the UN envoy is "the first to say that time is not on our side."
The ultimate goal after three years of war in Yemen and many failed attempts at restoring peace is reaching a "creative framework, a setup, something that doesn't allow us to fail."
Ms Al Hashimy also reiterated UAE’s position that it is not engaged in talks with Iran (which backs the Houthis) on this matter.
Last month, an Arab Coalition official revealed that the negotiations are around a four-point plan and that the coalition will only accept the full proposal.
The four points according to the official are: UN supervision over Hodeidah port; Yemeni forces helping to secure the port; allowing free access of aid to the port; and revenues from the port being kept in Hodeidah’s branch of the Central Bank and not transferred to the capital Sanaa, which remains under Houthi control
Nicholas Heras, a defence fellow at the Centre for New American Security – a bipartisan, non-profit think tank that develops defence policies – told The National that the Hodeidah battle which started on June 13 "has become the entire Yemen war in miniature".
“The Houthis seem pretty dug into their demands and resistance,” he said. This “makes achieving a deal, even one brokered by the UN, a challenge”.
Failure of the UN brokered political talks, however, will mean that the coalition will have to decide whether to maintain the stalemate or wage a battle for Hodiedah’s populated city centre, Mr Heras argued.
Her meeting with Mr Griffiths comes after a Houthi rebel chief said they would refused to withdraw completely from Hodeidah.
Abdel Malek Al Houthi said he was not against the UN having "a role of supervision" in Hodeidah if the pro-government forces – backed by an Arab coalition – stop their offensive, French newspaper Le Figaro reported.
"We told the UN envoy, Martin Griffiths, that we are not rejecting the role of supervision and logistics that the UN wants to hold in the port, but on the condition that the aggression against Hodeidah stops," Mr Al Houthi said in an interview published online on Tuesday.
Ms Al Hashimy's visit to Washington followed talks she held at the United Nations in New York earlier this week. According to the UAE’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, she met with Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); and Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef). She also met members of the UN Security Council.
In a statement the mission highlighted the UAE’s humanitarian assistance to Yemen, close to $4 billion over the past three years. In March, the UAE contributed $465 million in unrestricted funds to the UN for the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan.
Ms Al Hashimy also touched upon the progress in the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which the UAE helped to advance. She told The National that the first commercial flight in 20 years taking off from Addis Ababa to Asmara is a sign of "major progress", but that the next steps and scale of relations will be determined by the two countries.
Speaking alongside Ms Al Hashimy at the panel was the UAE’s Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, who addressed the Qatar crisis.
He said: “The goal is not to undermine the Gulf Cooperation Council... and there has been no impact on multilateral work” of the council. He challenged anyone to point to something the GCC can do on Iran and that has not been done because of the one year old crisis.
“Life goes on” Mr Otaiba said, adding that his interactions with the US government as of late have not addressed the Qatar crisis.