MUSCAT – UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths concluded a visit to Oman on Sunday during which he discussed prospects for launching a political process between warring Yemeni factions.
Griffiths tweeted that he had met with Omani Foreign Minister Badr al-Busaidi during the trip.
The UN envoy is looking for regional support for his efforts to break a stalemate in Yemen’s peace process through a draft joint declaration he presented earlier to the Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
The Yemeni government rejected the declaration, saying that it overlooks basic principles to resolve the conflict, including outputs of the national dialogue, the Gulf initiative and UN Resolution 2216.
To amend the declaration so that it is acceptable to both parties to the Yemeni conflict, the UN envoy will have to convince the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to accept any changes.
For this mission to succeed, Griffiths needs the support of Oman, which maintains good ties with the Houthis and Tehran.
Observers of Gulf affairs previously noted a shift in Omani diplomacy after Sultan Haitham bin Tariq dismissed former Former Minister Yusuf bin Alawi and appointed Badr Al Busaidi in his place.
Observers believe the Sultanate is drawing closer to Arab Gulf countries, potentially at the expense of its decades-long strong relationship with Iran.
Any shift in this direction will also have an impact on Muscat’s relationship with Houthis, which are backed by Iran. There are now questions being raised as to whether the Sultanate is moving from a neutral mediator in the Yemeni file to an active player, exerting pressure on Iran-backed rebels to accept peace and stop stirring tension in the region.
Regional stability, according to observers, is of utmost importance to Oman, which hopes that a climate of peace will allow it to devote its efforts to dealing with a deep economic crisis that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and a decline in oil prices.
Following his visit to the Sultanate, Griffiths said he discussed “the ongoing negotiations on the draft joint declaration and the prospects for the political process in Yemen” with Oman’s top diplomat.
The UN envoy also met with the spokesman for the Houthi group and the head of its negotiating delegation Muhammad Abdul Salam during the trip.
According to Griffiths, the two sides discussed the draft joint declaration, which is still being negotiated by two parties, and UN efforts to end the conflict.
Since 2015, the UN has worked to stop the violence in Yemen and persuade warring parties to return to the negotiating table.
However, the UN envoy has made little progress towards resolving the conflict, apart from forging a 2018 ceasefire agreement in the western governorate of Hodeidah that has been marred by violations.
The joint declaration that the UN envoy is pushing for as grounds for a new peace initiative would mandate an immediate, binding ceasefire in the country.
Leaks of the draft declaration’s text show that it would also expand “the circle of humanitarian and economic measures to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.”
The declaration also stresses that the two parties should commit to “a complete cessation of all land, air and sea military offensive operations, including the redeployment of forces, heavy and medium weapons and ammunition.”
It urges the cessation of air and ground attacks on Saudi territory as well as the formation of a military coordination committee headed by the UN, with members from parties to monitor the ceasefire and hold meetings at least weekly.
The plan also includes proposals to open up the main roads to cities, especially in Taiz, Sana’a, Hodeidah, Marib, Saada and Al Jawf and pay the salaries of all civil servants in the country according to the 2014 payroll.
The plan calls for the Marib-Ras Isa pipeline to be repaired so it can resume pumping oil, for the safety of the dilapidated “Safer” oil tanker to be ensured and for the Marib gas power station to be restarted. It would also lift restrictions on the entry of container and oil derivative ships to the port of Hodeidah, reopen Sana’a International Airport and allow humanitarian, commercial and civil flights to land In light of this, political consultations would resume.
However, the draft joint declaration has received pushback from the Houthis, who recently escalated their attacks against Saudi Arabia with drones and booby traps.
On Sunday, the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen said it had intercepted and destroyed an explosives-laden drone launched by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels towards the kingdom.
The coalition, in statements carried by Saudi state media, said the attacks were aimed at civilian targets but did not specify the sites or mention any damage.
The launch of drones, smuggled from Iran, to attack Saudi territory is usually seen as Iranian escalation towards regional rivals and opponents.
Iran is often seen as driving tension in Yemen by dictating hardline positions on Houthi rebels regarding peace initiatives.
Lasting tension in Yemen serves Tehran’s interests by preserving a war of attrition weakening its major regional rival, Saudi Arabia.
Arab politicians and diplomats have called on the United Nations to focus its efforts on Iran, pressuring it to stop smuggling weapons to the Houthis and pushing them to press on with the war.