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Yemen: GCC invites Houthis to Riyadh conference
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Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah presides over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Riyadh on March 12, 2015. (Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser)

Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah presides over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Riyadh on March 12, 2015. (Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has said that Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthi group will be invited to attend peace talks in Riyadh, but only if they recognize the “legitimacy” of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The Houthis have been in de facto control of Yemen since taking over the capital Sana’a after they forcibly placed President Hadi and some of his ministers under house arrest in January. Hadi submitted his resignation in protest, but was later able to escape the capital and is currently in the process of setting up a new government in the southern port city of Aden.

Saudi Arabia on Monday agreed to host the reconciliation talks in Riyadh between Yemen’s various political factions, under the auspices of the GCC, at the request of President Hadi.

The UN and Arab League have both acknowledged Hadi as Yemen’s legitimate president, but the Houthis have refused to retract their controversial “constitutional declaration” that saw parliament dissolved and the Houthis take over power in early February.

GCC foreign ministers met on Thursday to discuss the situation in Yemen, throwing their weight behind President Hadi and affirming their commitment to helping resolve the deteriorating political situation in the country via the Riyadh conference.

Although the GCC states voted earlier to move ahead with the negotiations in Riyadh, they did not set a date for the meeting.

Speaking during a press conference following the GCC foreign ministers summit in Riyadh on Thursday, Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah said: “All parties will participate in the political conference that is being organized by the GCC in Riyadh with the sole aim of resolving the crisis.”

Asked specifically whether the Houthis—who have formally been designated a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia—have been invited to attend the Riyadh summit, Attiyah said that “The invitation concerns the Houthis. It’s their business to accept or not.”

However GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani stressed that any Yemeni faction attending the talks must adhere to the conditions put forward by President Hadi.

The conditions include calling for all participants to reject the Houthi “coup” and for the Houthis themselves to return any military equipment they have seized and allow the state to recover its authority across Yemen.

The GCC also played down the military threat represented by the Houthis after the Shi’ite group reportedly carried out military maneuvers in Yemen’s northern Saada province, which borders Saudi Arabia.

“We have sufficient capability to protect our territories and sovereignty,” Attiyah said in response to the military drills.

“A [military] maneuver here or there will not affect GCC states,” the Qatari foreign minister added.

The latest developments on both the diplomatic and military fronts come as local sources, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that President Hadi is in the process of recruiting 20,000 armed fighters to form a military force based out of Aden to confront the Houthi-backed Special Security Forces (SSF) led by Brig. Gen. Abdul Hafiz Al-Saqqaf.

“President Hadi is trying to resolve the situation peacefully, but he does not have a lot of room to negotiate in light of the public pressure on him to end Saqqaf’s rebellion,” a Yemeni official told Asharq Al-Awsat.