U.N. aims for Yemen talks by year-end, not end of month

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths is aiming to convene the country’s warring parties for peace talks by the end of the year, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday, after last week saying he would try to bring them together by the end of the month.

United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during an interview with Reuters in Abu Dhabi, UAE, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Tarek Fahmy/File Photo

A proxy war is playing out in Yemen between Iran and Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-allied Houthi group. Iran has denied supplying weapons to the Houthis.

The United States and Britain last week stepped up calls for an end to the nearly four-year war that has driven impoverished Yemen to the verge of famine, raising pressure on Saudi Arabia as it faces a global outcry over the murder of a prominent Saudi journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Griffiths, who is due to brief the Security Council on Nov. 16, is trying to salvage peace talks that collapsed in September. He said in a statement last week that he hoped to bring the parties to the negotiating table within a month.

However, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Thursday the goal was for political consultations before the end of the year.

“There’s always different challenges to bringing the parties together,” Haq told reporters. “What we’re trying to do is clear up any issues so that we can get a successful round of talks as soon as possible.”

An attempt to hold peace talks in Geneva in September was abandoned after three days of waiting for the Houthi delegation.

The Houthis had said they wanted U.N. guarantees their plane would not have to stop in Djibouti for inspection by the Saudi-led coalition. They also wanted the plane to evacuate some of their wounded to Oman or Europe.

An aide to Griffiths said work to re-launch the political process was proceeding as planned.

“We are in constant consultation with the parties to finalize the logistical arrangements for holding the talks. We are committed to convening the talks as soon as those arrangements are finalized,” said the aide.

Houthi fighters battled Saudi-led forces in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Thursday and posted gunmen on the roof of a hospital, leaving doctors and young patients in the line of fire, rights groups and military sources said.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Monday he would push for new action at the U.N. Security Council to try to end hostilities in Yemen and find a political solution.

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Britain was working with the United States on a draft resolution to stop the fighting in Yemen.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler and Tom Brown