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Russia urged Houthis to attend Geneva talks without preconditions: official
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Smoke rises above the military academy following an airstrike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, in Sana’a, Yemen, on April 11, 2015. (EPA/Yahya Arhab)

Smoke rises above the military academy following an airstrike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, in Sana’a, Yemen, on April 11, 2015. (EPA/Yahya Arhab)

Moscow, Asharq Al-Awsat—Russia advised Yemen’s Houthi rebel group to go to the Geneva talks without preliminary conditions and show flexibility during the discussions which are expected to begin later this month, a senior Moscow official told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that talks between his government and a Houthi delegation visiting Moscow had been “constructive and fruitful,” and that Russia has urged the rebel group, and all Yemeni rivals, to go to the UN peace talks, which are set to take place in the Swiss city on June 14, without setting preconditions.

The talks were held “in an atmosphere of extreme candor,” Bogdanov said. He added that resolving the crisis in Yemen requires the efforts of all rivals “not only the [Houthi] Ansar Allah group, but it exceeds it to other sides, including [President] Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi”—Ansar Allah is an alternative name sometimes used to refer to the Houthi movement.

The current crisis in Yemen began in September when Houthi rebels occupied large swaths of the country, including Sana’a, seizing government buildings and military bases, in what regional powers described as a coup against Hadi’s authority.

Previous UN-sponsored talks between the central government and the Houthi group collapsed after the rebels placed President Hadi and his Prime Minister Khaled Bahah under house arrest.

Saudi Arabia and its Arab partners have launched an aerial campaign against the Houthis in Yemen with the aim of restoring Hadi to power.

The Houthi delegation’s visit to Moscow comes within the framework of international and regional efforts to resolve the political crisis in Yemen, Russian state-owned Sputnik news agency quoted a Houthi official as saying.

According to Sputnik, the delegation was comprised of senior Houthi leaders, including the head of its political council, Saleh Al-Samad, and the group’s official spokesman, Mohammed Abdel Salam, among others.

The same delegation met with US officials in Muscat two weeks ago as part of talks sponsored by the Omani government that led to the release of two American pilots.

Bogdanov said there were no alternatives to reaching a political settlement on Yemen other than the resumption of the political process there. He said he fully supports UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s efforts to resolve the crisis in Yemen, including his call for participants not to have preliminary conditions.

This is the second visit this year by a Houhi delegation to Moscow. A high-level Houthi delegation visited the Russian capital in February at the invitation of the State Duma, Russia’s parliament.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday that Moscow supports the Geneva talks and “believes that the event must involve all Yemeni sides without any preliminary conditions.”

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Permanent Representative to the UN Khaled Alyemany told Asharq Al-Awsat that the talks may be held over three days, starting from June 14.

The talks will start with an open session, to be attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, followed by several closed ones chaired by Ould Cheikh Ahmed, he said.

When asked whether Yemen’s Vice President and Prime Minister Bahah will attend, Alyemany said it was possible but not confirmed.

Heba Qudsi contributed reporting from Washington.