Talks between the warring parties in Yemen may not seem to be close to happening. Nevertheless, it is clear that everyone involved is seeking gains before sitting at the negotiation table. The Saudi-led coalition, for example, is relying on military achievements as well as divisions within the enemy camp to boost its own position in the talks. It is even offering financial incentives to split the ranks of its opponents.
Indeed, all sides want to negotiate from a position of strength. Hence, the formation of a propaganda and persuasion unit by the coalition to encourage dissidents amongst the Houthis to split from the main group. The unit includes veteran diplomats and intelligence agents; it provides large sums of money to leaders willing to join the internationally-recognised government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. It is obvious that the head of the Houthi-controlled government, Yahya Ali Al-Ra’ee, fell under the spell of Saudi propaganda instigating him to split.
Al-Ra’ee, a senior official in the General People’s Congress (GPC) in Yemen, was placed under house arrest by the Houthis, along with 10 of his supporters. The GPC had long allied with the Houthi rebels loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Many dissident ministers, including Mohsen Ali Al-Nakib and Abdul Salam Bin Ali Jaber, have recently joined Hadi’s government and the coalition.
In order to combat the propaganda and persuasion unit, the Houthi leadership has reinforced its own anti-espionage service, which now has a unit to monitor major figures who may be likely to accept Saudi largesse. This emergency cell, which was established on the recommendation of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, spies on military and diplomatic officials who may take sides with President Hadi and the coalition. It has arrested several senior officials in the past few weeks and foiled a plot to make Houthi Prime Minister Abdel-Aziz Bin Habtour join Hadi.
Despite mounting pressure from Washington to end the three-year-old conflict in Yemen, clashes took place for two days from 19 November in Al-Hudaydah, the strategic port city that the coalition is still trying to control. Last week, Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, visited Abu Dhabi to discuss the situation with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. According to leaked information, Bin Zayed is keen to stop financing the conflict in Yemen but was reluctant to leave his Saudi ally in a critical situation there. Thus, the solution currently under consideration is to allow the Saudi-led coalition to regain control over Al-Hudaydah as a face-saving exercise before starting negotiations for the withdrawal of troops.
The British diplomat and Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has resumed his visits to the region to re-launch negotiations, though such trips have been under close scrutiny. Despite his diplomatic role, he still seems to be heading his own diplomatic mediation company, Meditation Group, along with his associate Andrew Locken. Griffiths apparently has ties with Max Abitbol, a French financier and CEO of ICare Group, which is involved in a number of oil projects in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.