LONDON: The UN envoy to Yemen has said Saudi Arabia has a legitimate interest in a stable southern border as he laid out his expectations for peace negotiations next month.
Martin Griffiths last week invited the warring parties in Yemen to negotiations in Geneva in a bid to resume peace talks to end the conflict.
The diplomat has spent weeks shuttling between the different sides in a bid to avoid an assault by government forces on the port of Hodeidah, which is held by the Houthi militia.
He also met with officials from the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which is supporting the forces of the internationally recognized government in their battle against the Iran-backed Houthis.
In an interview, Griffiths said the talks must prioritize negotiations between Yemenis but that Saudi Arabia has a legitimate interest “in a country which does not launch attacks on Saudi soil and where there is no foreign interference.”
Iran has been widely blamed for stoking the conflict in Yemen and supplying weapons and missile technology to the Houthis, who seized the capital Sanaa in 2014. Ballistic missiles have been fired dozens of times into the Kingdom’s territory.
The Houthis have also targeted shipping in the busy maritime lanes off the Yemen coastline, including two Saudi oil tankers last month.
Griffiths said it was “crucial,” not just for the region, but for Europe as well that there was a “safe passage of trade going through the Red Sea.”
“Stability in Yemen is not just for Yemenis and this is why the resolving of the Yemeni conflict is so strategic,” he said.
Griffiths was speaking as tensions increased in Yemen this week, with a string of missiles fired into Saudi Arabia and coalition airstrikes hitting the Houthi leadership and missile launch sites in Saada province. The coalition said on Friday it would immediately investigate an attack on a bus which killed 29 children in Saada on Thursday.
Griffiths said the talks on Sept. 6 are for the two sides to “agree on issues needed to stop the war and restore a legitimate government to Yemen.”
They will be “consultations leading to negotiations” that aim to create a political transition with a government of national unity that includes all the parties.
He also said they must agree on the complete withdrawal and disarmament of all armed groups in Yemen.
Griffiths faces an uphill struggle in the talks with several previous rounds of negotiations ending in stalemate.
The envoy said they had learned a lot of “good and bad” lessons from those talks, including from negotiations in 2016 in Kuwait.
He acknowledged there has also been changes in Yemen, particularly in the south where there have being increasing calls for independence.
However, Griffiths said the future of the south would not be negotiated in this process but will be part of a discussion by Yemenis during the transition period.
“We do not support any separation unless it is the result of a due process of agreement within that member state, he said. “The unity of Yemen is important.
“If you had Yemen to break up today it will be disastrous.”
Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat