UN Envoy to Submit to Hadi New Initiative for Crisis Resolution

UN Secretary-General Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed speaks to media after the Yemen peace talks in Switzerland in Bern

Jeddah – UN Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Saturday to meet with Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and ministers in the Yemeni government, to present highlights of his new initiative for a political solution in the war-torn country.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdul Malek al-Mekhlafi told Asharq al-Awsat that during the upcoming meetings, the government would only listen to Ould Cheikh’s ideas then agree on the next measures to be taken. He noted that the government had not received any details about the new initiative.

He also said that the UN envoy would meet during his visit to Saudi Arabia with the ambassadors of the permanent members of the Security Council, and would hold another round of meetings with the Saudi side, noting that talks would focus on the new ideas for the solution in Yemen.

Yemeni sources said that optimism of Yemeni political leaders and the public opinion with the ability of the United Nations to reach a solution to the crisis is gradually diminishing in light of the failure of many previous initiatives and proposals, the latest of which was putting the port of Hodeidah under UN administration and lifting the siege on Taiz.

The UN envoy’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes two weeks after the UN issued its annual report on the situation of children in armed conflicts, in which it accused the Saudi-led coalition of breaching children’s rights in Yemen.

The report was met with a wave of international condemnation for containing inaccurate information and figures, which were based on unreliable sources. This issue will also be tackled during Hadi’s meeting with Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

London Calls on UN to Avoid Misleading Information on Yemen

Alistair Burt MP, Britain's Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Riyadh- Britain’s Minister of State for the Middle East Alistair Burt called on Monday United Nations’ agencies operating in Yemen to gather all accessible information in order to avoid being misled.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper during his visit to Riyadh, Burt encouraged assisting those UN agencies that have a difficult mission in Yemen.

Asked about the latest UN Secretary General’s annual Children and armed conflict report (CAAC) that drove dispute for including inaccurate information, Burt said: “I believe this is an issue related to the UN. And, it is important that the UN receives all available resources as some issues might be purely disputed and therefore, certain people could offer misleading information.”

He added that the UK cooperates with the UN. “They are trying to realize a hard mission, but in my opinion, what is more important is to remove the motives of strife in order to avoid similar reports in the future,” he explained.

The British minister said that his visit to Saudi Arabia comes in the framework of coordination concerning the Yemeni file, adding that the UK would place all its efforts in coordination with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States to politically end the Yemeni crisis.

“I met Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in New York and we spoke on the phone. I am pleased to meet him again. We currently have a specific issue to discuss, which is Yemen,” Burt said, adding that the two countries would work together to end the strife and support UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and his mission.

Burt described the Saudi-British relationship as “very important,” particularly in the fields of security and commerce.

“My visit also aims to enhance those relations, and I was offered the chance to meet with the British consular officers working in the Kingdom to tackle opportunities in the tourism sectors and to share our experiences in the fields of museums and heritage,” he said.

Long Thorny Road to Building a United Libyan Army

Libya

Tripoli – In 2014, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar reunited the Libyan military forces after they became fragmented in wake of their country’s NATO-backed armed uprising against leader Moammar al-Gadhadfi.

Under Gadhafi’s regime, the army included a little more than 140,000 officers and soldiers, said former officer Ahmed Gadhaf al-Damm. The number now lies at only 35,000, who are under Haftar’s command. So where has the rest of the military, with its weapons and equipment, gone?

Despite the difficulties the Libyan army has been enduring since Gadhafi’s death in 2011, Haftar has succeeded in first, expelling extremist groups from the eastern and southern regions, and second, introducing reforms to the military structure left over from the former regime.

This has led to the emergence of what Libyan military spokesman Ahmed al-Masmari calls the “security brigades.” These brigades, with their rocket-propelled grenades and Russian heavy tanks, have earned their negative reputation from their suppression of the armed uprising.

They did not have a united leadership, but Gadhaf al-Damm does not paint such a dark picture. The military man, who began his career under Gadhafi, explained that these fighters used to be subject to the armed forces and they used to defend the nation in 2011.

At any rate, the road to reaching a united army seems long.

Libyan military officials, like their counterparts all over the world, do not like to discuss divisions in the army and differences over its objective. This stance is shared by officers, who still back the former regime, and others, who took part in the uprising and now back Haftar.

Given this bleak reality, one despairingly has to ask: What is one to do if his questions do not receive definitive answers from the various military units spread throughout the country?

For example, how can we explain the position of General Mustafa al-Sharkasi, the former military commander of the Benghazi region, who has found himself at odds with Haftar. He is now the leader of the “Defense Brigades” that is accused of terrorism and collaborating with Qatar.

After a long discussion with Sharkasi, one realizes that some issues can be resolved through a mixture of dialogue, good intentions and some force.

In this regard, a military intelligence official demanded that “ties between high-ranking officers with any sectarian or local militias must be immediately severed.”

For instance, what is the stance of Ali Kanna, who used to be one of the strongmen of the deposed regime? Immediately in the aftermath of Gadhafi’s murder, he was eager to introduce reform to the military institution. Now, however, his role has been diminished to merely a defender of his Tuareg tribe. The Tuareg, a tribe of non-Arab roots, are mainly present in the southern province of Fezzan.

One of Kanna’s aides, who has Tuareg roots, said: “We are Libyans. Our role is to preserve Libya’s unity and this can only be achieved through the unity of the military institution. The problem is that communication between the commanders in the country has weakened from what it was in the past. At least this is what we are noticing in the South.”

There are other military commanders and their soldiers, who used to be the backbone of the army under the old regime. Nearly seven years after Gadhafi’s death, they have found themselves surrounded by political chaos given the absence of a central authority. They now operate as isolated islands in their regions or they are waiting in regional countries like so many thousands of others.

What about military commands that have joined the militias and which do not adhere to Haftar? Could this lead to Libya’s division?

Gadhaf al-Damm replied: “No, the majority of the military officials are now in their cities and villages. They are trying to join the army regardless of who is leading it, because the truth is, no one is really leading in Libya. Everything is made up of illusory structures.”

Despite the difficulties, the military forces that Haftar managed to bring together in challenging conditions have managed to impose themselves. They have shelled extremist groups in various regions in the east and south and they now have their sights set on the west.

One of the members of the political dialogue committee, which is affiliated with the United Nations delegation in Libya, said that “at least we can now say that the country now has a general that we can talk to.”

“This will help persuade the international community in lifting the 2011 ban against equipping the army with weapons,” he added.

On some Libyan calls for Haftar to run for president, one of his close aides said: “The real purpose of uniting the army is not political.”

“The truth is that Haftar is not seeking a political position. We are not defending politicians, but a country, which is on the verge of being lost,” he stressed.

The idea of uniting the army used to be only a dream, but Haftar’s determination, as some said, has taken it to the regional and international dialogue table. It has reached Egypt, which is leading Libyans in that direction.

The challenge now lies in how to merge the other commanders, with their officers and soldiers, in a single entity and around a single ideology.

Masmari remarked: “The Libyan army ideology is defensive and it seeks to defend Libya and the gains of its people.”

There remain attempts to steer officers away from Haftar, which some observers said would only push the country towards division, said Dr. Mohammed al-Warfali, former commander in the Libyan tribes conference.

Despite this gloomy outlook, opportunities remain and international pressure and Arab and Egyptian efforts are being exerted to save Libya. Only days ago, Haftar met with UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh at his office at the al-Rajma military base, some 40 kms away from the city of Benghazi. Haftar, who enjoys strong and significant ties with the leaderships in Cairo and Abu Dhabi, has also paid visits to Moscow, Paris and Rome.

At the end of September, Libyan military officials in Cairo agreed to form technical committees to study mechanisms to unite the Libyan military institution.

American political analyst Sharif al-Hilweh, who had toured several cities in western Libya, said the existence of several military commands outside of Haftar’s control will really affect the army.

“This is natural and such commands in the South and West could lead to the division of Libya into three countries or regions,” he warned.

He noted however that some of these military commanders enjoy good ties with the US Department of Defense, which means that they could yet play a role in the North African country’s future. Some leaders are also choosing not to get involved in the developments in the country at the moment to avoid being viewed as affiliated with the rival parties, Hilweh revealed.

“Regardless of what happens, I believe that the army will no longer remain divided. I know that communication exists between its commanders, because, ultimately, they are the products of a single institution and this will not change with political shifts,” he continued.

Sharkasi meanwhile, summed up his position by saying: “Our main problem is Haftar. We will not seek vengeance if he leaves the Libyan scene.”

“We want the rise of the state,” he declared, while completely rejecting any form of cooperation with the field marshal.

Yemen UN Envoy Underlines ‘Transparent’ Contacts with Houthis

Cheikh

London – An official at the office of United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed denied on Friday that any of his aides had contacted Houthi leaders residing in Beirut.

The official told Asharq Al-Awsat that the envoy had never even traveled to Lebanon since he was appointed to his post.

He made his remarks in response to media claims that Ould Cheikh had met Houthis in the Lebanese capital.

The official added: “There is no second line of contacts between the envoy and Houthis. All contacts are being done transparently and through the usual channels.”

The envoy had recently announced a new comprehensive solution to resolve the crisis in Yemen that started with a coup in 2014.

The official at Ould Cheikh’s office said: “We have not yet fully and officially presented this initiative to any side. The envoy will work on this in the upcoming days.”

EU: Washington Does Not Have Authority to Terminate Iran Nuclear Deal

Mogherini

London – European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stressed on Friday that US President Donald Trump does not have the authority to terminate the nuclear deal world powers signed with Iran in wake of his recent announcement of a new strategy against Tehran.

She said: “The president of the United States has many powers, but not this one.”

Trump had announced during a speech unveiling during which he unveiled the new strategy that he could terminate the deal at any time.

In other European reactions to Trump’s stance, France, Germany and Britain said in a joint statement that preserving the nuclear deal “falls within our national interest.”

French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romat said in a statement that the deal was a strong tool to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert stated: “We have a great interest in the continuation of this international unity. If … an important country like the United States comes to a different conclusion as appears to be the case, we will work even harder with other partners to maintain this cohesion.”

Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano declared on Friday that Tehran is “subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime.”

He added that Iran is honoring its commitments.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that FM Sergei Lavrov had telephoned his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif on Friday, saying that Moscow will remain completely committed to the nuclear deal with Tehran.

Lavrov told Zarif that Russia was firmly determined to implement the deal in the form in which it was approved by the United Nations Security Council, reported Reuters.

The Kremlin meanwhile warned of “negative and dire consequences” if Washington withdrew from the deal, saying that Tehran would reciprocate such a move.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that spiking the deal “would undoubtedly hurt the atmosphere of predictability, security, stability and non-proliferation in the entire world.”

Echoing Moscow’s stance, Beijing reiterated its commitment to the nuclear deal with Iran.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman hoped that all sides would continue to support and implement the agreement.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “strongly hoped” the Iran nuclear deal will remain in place, after Trump accused Iran of violating the accord.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric noted that Guterres had long praised the 2015 pact as a very important breakthrough to stem the spread of nuclear weapons and advance global peace.

UAE Ends Mission of its Ambassador to North Korea

Abu Dhabi- The United Arab Emirates has terminated the diplomatic presence of the UAE non-resident ambassador to the Republic of North Korea, and Pyongyang’s ambassador to the country, in addition to taking other measures that consolidate the international community’s work in that regard.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, MoFAIC, has stated that the measures include stopping the issuance of entry visas for North Korean citizens and ceasing new business licenses for North Korean companies wishing to operate in the UAE.

The MoFAIC affirmed that the UAE has developed an executive framework in collaboration with state departments in the country to implement UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea and its nuclear program, primarily Resolutions 2371 and 2375.

It said it looked forward to international efforts aimed to stop the proliferation of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program that pose a threat to international peace and stability.

The statement added that the ministry’s measures come in line with the UAE’s responsibility as a full-fledged member of the international community.

UNICEF: 140,000 Doses of Vaccines Destroyed in Syria’s al-Mayadin

Amman, Damascus- The UN children’s agency has received reports that a UNICEF-supported vaccine cold room in al-Mayadin district has been destroyed in ongoing violence in eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzor, with at least 140,000 doses of vaccines lost.

The report, which UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere said Thursday the agency is working to verify, is “alarming” and is likely to hamper an ongoing vaccination drive in the area.

Al-Mayadin is the center of an outbreak of vaccine-derived polio which has so far paralyzed 48 children since March 2017.

“Children living in the Governorate of Deir Ezzor are extremely vulnerable to the spread of disease and illness,” said Cappelaere.

“Attacks on health facilities are a grave violation of international humanitarian law. Children continue to be the first victims of attacks on civilian infrastructure which have become shockingly commonplace in Syria.”

“The continued violence has devastated health infrastructure and severely disrupted routine immunization services and vaccination campaigns, particularly in Deir Ezzor and Raqqa,” Cappelaere said.

Prior to the crisis, Syria was polio-free, with an immunization rate over 80 per cent. National vaccination coverage is now just over 40 per cent.

UNICEF’s regional director also said that “violence continues to be a daily reality for children in several locations around Syria. September was reportedly the deadliest month for civilians this year with attacks on residential areas every day, causing hundreds of conflict-related deaths and injuries.”

He called once again on all parties to the conflict to comply fully with international humanitarian law and respect the protection and welfare of children.

“Boys and girls throughout Syria have suffered beyond belief and for too long already,” he said.

UN Chemical Weapons Investigators to Visit Syria’s Shayrat Air Base

United Nations- UN investigators will this week travel to the Shayrat air base in Syria that the United States and its allies say was used to launch the sarin gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province last April.

The team from the joint UN-OPCW probe, known as the JIM, left Monday for Damascus and were to go to the Shayrat airfield, a Security Council diplomat, who asked not to be named, told Agence France Presse on Wednesday.

The trip to the airfield comes just weeks before the release of a much-awaited report on the Khan Sheikhoun attack that the West and a UN commission have said was carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

The United States in April launched a missile attack on Shayrat after concluding that Syrian aircraft, loaded with sarin gas, had departed from that airfield to attack Khan Sheikhoun.

The JIM visit to Shayrat would address criticism from Russia that the panel is biased by refusing to accept Syria’s offer to visit the military base.

Western diplomats have expressed skepticism however, suggesting the visit would be used by Damascus to try to bolster its assertion that the sarin gas was released by an accidental air strike on a storage depot in rebel-held Idlib.

The joint investigation of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)  earlier this year presented a report confirming sarin gas was used in the attack at Khan Sheikhoun that left 87 people dead.

Syria’s regime has denied any involvement and maintains it no longer possesses chemical weapons after a 2013 agreement under which it pledged to surrender them.

Yemen and the Catastrophic Role of ‘Lone’ Nations

United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed presented again, before the Security Council, a new UN proposal to resolve the Yemeni crisis. Possibly, even Yemenis can no longer count the number of initiatives launched by Ould Cheikh whether a proposal, truce or a road-map. Though they are many, none succeeded.

Labels and means varied, yet the UN is neglecting the easiest and shortest road which is to apply the Security Council resolution 2216 which demads Houthis to halt their rely on violence and to withdraw their forces from all regions ruled by them including Sana’a, in addition to stopping the mobilization of children, dismissing current ones and abstaining from provocations or threats to neighboring states.

Throughout 29 years, the UN failed via its former secretary general and then the new Portuguese secretary general Antonio Guterres to carry out one practical step to resolve the Yemeni crisis through applying any of the UN resolution terms. Further, the UN contributed in prolonging the crisis through encouraging insurgents to move forward with their project to kidnap the state.

In plain sight of the UN, insurgents are practicing the collective punishment policy in regions ruled by them and have mobilized around 10,000 Yemeni children.

Strangely, the UN-affiliated international organizations operating in Yemen are lenient with Houthis as if they are not responsible for the comprehensive siege and the crimes, neglecting the clear international resolution and the violations and practices adopted by Houthis and Saleh militias.

This approach encouraged them and caused a shock for the legit Yemeni authority that is acknowledged by the UN, Arab League, international organizations and all states.

It seems that the UN role in Yemen has become an obstacle rather than an aid to reaching a resolution. For example, two years ago the UN pursued to settle truce more than once by which it endowed militias the chance to recover and make a field infringe. Although the truce was necessary for civilians, Houthi militias used it to logistically support their war effort. Off course, the truce quickly collapsed but the UN refrained from announcing that and from holding the breaching party legally responsible.

Mark Malloch Brown, Deputy Secretary-General and Chief of Staff of the UN under Kofi Annan, stressed earlier that the UN is in pressuring need for reforms. In fact, the chaos in the UN will worsen if it continues to depend on false standards that deal with militias as states, thieves as supporters, and prefer insurgents over those who possess international legality.

Who would believe that the UN, which is supposed to be applying the highest levels of credibility and objectivity in its reports, would issue reports against the coalition without double checking the data from the coalition or the legit government?

Antonio Guterres, however, occupies this new position in a world where confidence in the UN and the global values it represents has declined. Until now, his performance is frustrating especially that he lacks high capabilities to communicate and didn’t yet take any decisive stance towards the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya or South Sudan.

Obviously, he didn’t present himself as a strong secretary general whether on the level of foreign leaders or internal reforms.

US President Donald Trump previously criticized the UN, describing it as a “club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

His description seems to be correct since the UN credibility is scattering and its objectify is on the verge. Despite its original role in being part of the solution, it has become part of the problem and its complexities.

Especially in Yemen, it is no more the united nations but the ‘lone’ ones.

Saudi Arabia Supports Yemeni Parties Returning to Peace Negotiations

In the Harat Al-Masna’a slum in Sana’a, Yemen, a man walks with his three-year-old daughter which sits next to a former textile factory and hosts 231 families of former factory workers.

Riyadh- Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al-Jaber reaffirmed that the Kingdom supports all political efforts exerted by the United Nations to bring Yemeni parties back to negotiations and reach a political solution.

However, the ambassador pointed out to the existence of foreign interferences by the Iranian regime that threaten security and stability in the region and Yemen.

UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced on Wednesday his intention to revive negotiations between the parties to the Yemeni conflict through the introduction of a comprehensive initiative for the solution, including humanitarian initiatives to rebuild confidence and the return of the parties to the negotiating table.

“The Iranian regime is threatening security and stability in the region,” the Saudi ambassador to Yemen said at a workshop in Brussels organized by the Gulf Research Center, citing a Houthi-Iranian agreement signed by militias in February 2015 to conduct 28 weekly Sanaa-Tehran flights to import ballistic missiles, guided boats and drones, and the specific weapons that the Houthis were supplied with.

“The Saudi position is clear; the solution in Yemen is political and depends on three basic reference points: the Gulf initiative, the outcomes of the Yemeni national dialogue, and the UN Security Council resolution (2216),” he said in a speech to workshop attendees.

The workshop was attended by representatives of the Yemeni government, the European Union, and civil society organizations.

On the other hand, Jaber stressed the need for Houthis to hand over the weapons and participate in the political process as a political party and not as a militia.

“Iranian interference in Yemen must stop and ensure the security and stability of Yemen and the region,” he said.
For his part, Mohamed Taha Mustafa, the Yemeni ambassador to Belgium and the European Union, stressed the keenness of the legitimate government led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi on peace based on the principles of partnership in power and fair distribution of wealth within the framework of a federal Yemen that can serve Yemenis.