Yemen crisis: Oman mediates US-Houthi meeting

Yemen crisis: Oman mediates US-Houthi meeting
Oman, long seen as an impartial mediator in the Gulf on Yemen, is facilitating meeting between the Houthis and the US administration.
4 min read
25 May, 2015
Hadi is being pressured to attend the Geneva conference [AFP]

Political mediation with the Ansar Allah group (known as the Houthis) are underway through Oman, which had refused to join the Saudi-led coalition and preferred to remain a mediator.

However, this time, the Omani capital city of Muscat is hosting unprecedented Houthi-American meetings, according to a leaked cable.

Meanwhile, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is holding intensive talks with Yemeni parties in Yemen, with the aim of deciding on whether to attend or postpone the Geneva talks.

This is the first Houthi-US bilateral meeting.

A leaked cable sent from the Saudi Air Force to the Ministry of Defence showed the Houthi delegation left Sanaa to meet with an US delegation in Muscat. The cable included a "request for authorisation for the Houthi delegation's aircraft to fly over Saudi Arabia on its way to meet the US delegation in Muscat."

This is the first Houthi-US bilateral meeting. The US used to deny any direct contact with the Houthis, even though they had previously organised meetings for Yemeni parties with the participation of the Houthis, and hosted Houthi figures in Washington, though not in their partisan capacity.

The Arab coalition's authorisation for the Houthi delegation to leave Sanaa is the first sign of detente between the two sides after Houthis were directly targeted by the Saudi-led military operation, where the houses of Houthi leaders, including head of delegation Saleh al-Sammad and media spokesperson Mohammad Abdul Salam, both members of the delegation that left to Muscat on Saturday, were targeted by air strikes.

Breaking the diplomatic boycott

This development shows that the US, not Iran, has succeeded in breaking the effective boycott on Houthi leaders. The Houthi delegation's visit to Muscat comes a few days before the scheduled date of the UN-backed Geneva talks, which had been the subject of dispute between the Yemeni leadership and the coalition command in Riyadh on the one hand and Washington and the UN on the other.

Muscat emerged as a political mediator in the Yemeni crisis since the last half of 2014, when it played the role of a mediator between Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Yemeni government on one side and the Houthis and Iran on the other. However, this was before the Houthis took over Sanaa on 21 September 2014. Muscat has also mediated for the Houthis on other issues.

Interestingly, these political efforts come in conjunction with the Houthis' daily escalation and provocation on Saudi's borders.

It is likely the Houthis and loyalists of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh are trying hard to move the battle to the Saudi borders in order to provoke Saudi Arabia and revive the border disputes between the two countries, as well as to evade the air strikes that reach the houses of their leaders, while they are unable to respond.

This escalation was reflected in artillery shelling between Saudi and Houthi forces late Saturday night, destroying a large part of the Haradh border crossing, the largest between the two countries. Witnesses told Reuters the border crossing area was evacuated after the shelling destroyed the departure hall and the passport control area.

The Arab coalition's authorisation for the Houthi delegation to leave Sanaa is the first sign of detente between the two sides.

UN Yemen Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed held several meetings with Yemeni leaders in Riyadh, hours after Hadi addressed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He demanded the reconsideration of the Geneva talks' terms of reference and timing, and the inclusion of the Riyadh Declaration in the terms of reference, as well as the inclusion of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the talks.

The UN Envoy's meeting with Hadi followed another meeting on Saturday with Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and Foreign Minister Riad Yassin.

When asked about the outcomes of the meeting with Hadi, a Riyadh-based Yemeni presidential official speaking on the condition of anonymity told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Hadi might submit to pressures to attend the Geneva talks, but as of the present, most Yemeni parties do not plan to attend.

According to the Turkish Anadolu news agency, the Saudi-led Arab coalition launched air strikes on pro-Houthi army bases near Yemen's western province of Raymah for the first time, causing deaths and injuries. The air strikes also targeted Houthi and pro-Houthi camps in the Hudaydah province, while violent shelling against the Houthis and pro-Saleh forces in residential areas in the central city of Taiz led to civilian deaths.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.