UN's new Yemen envoy holds talks in Washington

Appointment of Martin Griffiths to the post has raised US hopes of fresh peace talks to end Yemen war

The newly appointed U.N. envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, speaks to reporters upon his arrival at Sanaa airport in Sanaa, Yemen March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
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The new United Nations envoy for Yemen has held his first talks with senior Trump administration officials in Washington, where his appointment to the post has raised hopes of a political process to end the country's war.

Martin Griffiths held consultations at the White House and State Department officials who manage the Yemen file. Those include a meeting with Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan on Wednesday, a US official told The National.

His trip to Washington followed a briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday at which Mr Griffiths emphasised the need “to diminish the chance of game-changing events" such as missile launches and confrontations which could derail “the hopes of the great majority of Yemenis" for a political settlement.

However, there is an increased sense of optimism in Washington about progress on Yemen after Mr Griffiths, a former British diplomat, took over the envoy post from Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in February. In the past few weeks he has travelled to Sanaa, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Geneva to push for political talks.

Gerald Feierstein, director for Gulf affairs at the Middle East Institute, told The National, that Mr Griffiths’ visit to Washington “was an important opportunity to share some of US government thinking and exchange insights”.

“There are some reasons for optimism that perhaps this change of leadership in the UN envoy position will be an opportunity for everyone to engage to get another round of negotiations in place after almost a two-year halt”.


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Mr Feierstein, a career US diplomat who last served in Yemen in 2013, said that Mr Griffiths was someone US officials knew well and had worked with in the past in different capacities, on missions related to Syria and humanitarian efforts.

“I have lot of respect for Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, but sometimes you need a fresh face and the US will do everything to ensure he is a success,” he said.

The optimism surrounding Mr Griffiths' mission is also rooted in the situation inside Yemen, said John Arterbury, a Yemen analyst with the Navanti group. "The potential for a cessation of hostilities is now slightly better than it has been in the years prior,” he said.

“The change in the UN envoy allows for something of a fresh slate in terms of how the parties engage one another. A lack of good faith in the peace process from both the Houthis and the former [Ali Abdullah] Saleh side previously hindered these efforts” he said.

“Now, with the Houthis under greater military pressure than before, there may be more incentive for them and their backers to come to the table.”

Stopping the fighting, however, is only the first step in a long process, Mr Arterbury said.

“In some respects, the biggest challenges facing Yemen will be reconciling the country's competing political parties and geographic areas in the years after the civil war wanes off.”