Washington DC and Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s internationally recognized government has agreed to attend peace talks in Geneva with the Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement in a bid to resolve the crisis currently gripping the country, Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin said on Tuesday.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Yassin said the decision came after President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi met with UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Monday in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Yassin revealed that the government will be sending seven representatives to the peace talks, which will also be attended by a delegation of similar size from the Houthi movement.
Representatives of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh will also be present at the meeting, Yassin confirmed. Saudi Arabia has accused Saleh of supporting the Houthi coup in Yemen, which the group launched in February months after their occupation of the capital Sana’a in September of 2014.
The talks in Geneva were originally scheduled for May 28, but were canceled after the government withdrew due to the Houthis not complying with a UN Security Council resolution on Yemen adopted in April.
Resolution 2216 stipulates the Houthis vacate all areas in Yemen currently under their control and cease all hostile action against civilians.
Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday that during meetings with the Houthis a day earlier, Ould Cheikh Ahmed had obtained an agreement from the Shi’ite group that they would comply with “a large proportion” of the demands put forward in the UN resolution.
The government has now proposed a June 14 date for the Geneva meeting in order to give it enough time to put together a suitable delegation, Yassin said.
A Western diplomat with knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday there was optimism among those involved in organizing the talks that the government and the Houthis would reach a solution to end the fighting in the country.
The diplomat said the talks could see an extended ceasefire declared in the country to cover the entire Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is predicted to last approximately from June 17–July 17.
Houthi militias have spread throughout Yemen since September of 2014 when they occupied Sana’a and took over government, military and media buildings and facilities in the city.
The Saudi-led airstrikes targeting the Houthis in Yemen began in March—just over a month after the group launched their coup in the country—at the request of President Hadi, who fled a Houthi-imposed house arrest in the capital before heading to Riyadh.
The strikes have bolstered a grassroots volunteer movement known as the Popular Resistance, which has sprung up throughout the country aiming to block the Houthi advance on the ground.
Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that coalition planes targeted the General Army Command building in Sana’a on Tuesday. It was the first time the building had been targeted by the coalition.
The sources said Houthi militias, who have taken over the building, were holding a high-level meeting there at the time.
At least one individual present at the meeting had been killed, they said, though they did not specify who.
Heba Qudsi and Nasser Haqbani contributed reporting from Washington DC and Riyadh.