Return to Riyadh: Is It Time to Form a Joint Negotiating Delegation?


Sun, 30-05-2021 10:38 PM, Aden

Jacob Alsufyani (South24)

The STC delegation arrived in Saudi Arabia, on Sunday evening, after receiving an invite to "resume consultations for implementing the Riyadh Agreement" with the Yemeni government.

The invite comes following the return of STC leadership a few weeks ago to Aden in parallel to the parity government – except for STC ministers – exiting towards Wadi Hadhramout and Saudi Arabia from Aden and after spending 5 months in Aden without resolving its issues nor the other governorate's as stated in the agreement. 

In addition to the stumbling of implementing the military part of the Riyadh Agreement, the negotiating delegate for the national ceasefire and a comprehensive peace process in which Southerners will participate through the STC to negotiate with Houthi's - who control Sanaa and most of North Yemen - is yet to be formed. 

Riyadh Agreement

On November 5, the STC signed an agreement in Saudi Arabia with the Yemeni government known as the "Riyadh Agreement" which was signed by the STC after successfully controlling Aden after vicious battles in August 2019 and losing control over Shabwah after replacing Shabwah Elite force with pro-Yemen presidency forces. 

The Riyadh Agreement stated several political and military agendas for the two parties. Military and security agendas included mutual withdraw of forces and integrating Southern pro-STC military and security forces into the organizational structure of the Ministries of Defense and Interior. The political agendas included forming a parity government that operate from Aden, forming a joint delegation to negotiate with the Houthis who control North Yemen as well for other points. 

For months later the agreement couldn't see light due to repeated conflicts between the two parties with the Yemeni government demanding to implement military and security agendas before proceeding to political agendas where the opposite was demanded by the STC. Clashes broke again in mid-May 2020 in conjunction with the start of the new round of talks in Riyadh between the STC delegate headed by Major General Aidros Al-Zubaidi from one side and the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi from the other. 

The second round of Riyadh negotiations gave birth to the ceasefire announcement in Abyan, eastern Aden and the formation of the parity government between North and South Yemen for the first time since the 1994 war. The STC obtained numerous cabinets in addition to appointing a new governor and security director for Aden.

At the start of this year, the parity government arrived in Aden which was the only agenda implemented in the Riyadh Agreement while military conditions remained still. No withdrawal was made by pro-Yemen presidency forces – which came from Marib and North Yemen territories – from Shabwah. 

Although it has been 6 months since their arrival to Aden, the parity government failed to provide real solutions to issues and crisis suffered by Southerners and liberated areas in North Yemen especially in basic services such as water, electricity and the major deterioration of the currency and economy. These reasons were the main ones that pushed Southerners and the STC to overthrow the two previous governments.  

Joint negotiating delegation

Besides military parts, the joint delegation in which Southerners participate through the STC in the national negotiations for a ceasefire and a comprehensive solution to the crisis which the international community has been calling for is yet to be accomplished. 

Ever since the war broke out in 2015 and what followed afterwards of multiple negotiations between the legitimate government and the Houthis in Geneva, Kuwait, Stockholm, Muscat and others, Independence demanding Southerners were absent from all of these negotiations and talks even with their massive presence in on all geographical aspects of the conflicts as well for the seniority and the pivotal role their cause plays which dates back to the "South's occupation" in 1994 as described by Southerners by the late president, Ali Abdallah Saleh and his allies in the religious, political and tribal parties in North Yemen.

The STC which was formed in 2017, seeks to represent Southerners in the peace negotiations between Yemeni conflict parts and on international forums to break the state of isolations and elimination the South's cause suffers as well for consolidate the independence demands and restore the South's state to 21 May 1990 situation.

"Forming a joint negotiating delegate is a principal point in the Riyadh Agreement and it is not restricted to the hierarchy of other agendas in the agreement. It is necessary to unfold it and this is the right time to do so especially under international pressure to form this mutual delegate so the STC can engage in a political process" says The Special Representative of the STC President for Foreign Affairs, Amr Al-Bidh in a special statement to "South24". 

"The external meetings made by the STC comes for enhancing its presence in the political process: Al-Bidh" 

Southerners' participations under the STC in the final peace negotiations are facing tremendous challenges and perhaps the Riyadh Agreement is also facing. Typical North Yemen powers are seeking to exclude the STC from any future negotiations because of the STC's demands for independence, which's something refused by those powers and share with Houthi in Sanaa.

In every meeting held between the STC and top diplomates, international envoys and US officials, the STC constantly reassure their preparedness to engage in peace negotiations and the importance of their participation as a legitimate representative for the Southern people and to not duplicate previous negotiations and talks when the STC's role as a central party and a leading power in South Yemen was ignored. It also warned from the failure of talks that do not include the Southern people and will not be obligated to any commitments made besides that. 

"The external meetings made by the STC comes for enhancing its presence in the political process," Al-Bidh told "South24". "The government intentions were to obstruct the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and excusing by the military and security agendas, but we reached to understandings with the international community on the importance of the STC to participate in the political process and at the meantime, there is pressure towards fully implementing the Riyadh Agreement". Al-Bidh added.

Political solution efforts

At the beginning of March, negotiating meetings were held between the Houthis and the US envoy Tim Lenderking, the UN envoy Martin Griffiths, in addition to envoys from Sweden and the EU that aimed at anchoring the national ceasefire in particular to the intense battles in the oil-rich governorate, Marib (the Yemeni government last stronghold in North Yemen) and the Houthis constant crawl towards to the remains of the city. 

Nothing came out of the negotiations. The UN special envoy Martin Griffiths announced in May the failure of Muscat talks to reach an agreement to terminate the war. [1] As well for a statement made by Lenderking that the negotiating held in Muscat with the Houthis has "failed" and he pointed out it is "exposing over 2 million Yemenis in Marib to danger due to the Houthis backing out of their commitments". Washington announced that they will implement "sanctions" on two Houthi's leadership for their role in Marib battel and they are "Mohammed Abdulkarim Al-Jamali and Yousef Al-Mdani". [2]

The Houthis said that the failure of Muscat negotiations comes after multiple pressure attempts on their group in the humanitarian file, announcing the holding to "ending the blockade and opening seaports and airports before looking into in military, political file or even talk about a ceasefire" and allowing Saudi Arabia to play the "role of a mediator" while it is – according to the Houthi – "a central player in the war". Saudi – which leads an Arab coalition alongside the UAE – has had meetings with Houthi parts by some of its diplomatic officials in a direct negotiating in Muscat, Oman which the latter play a mediator role close to Sanaa's rulers and under the US umbrella. [3]

Saudi had announced – on March 2021 – a ceasefire initiative in Yemen with the supervision of the United Nations and the resumptions of negotiations between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Iranian-backed Houthi. This is something rejected by the Houthis and is considered in the words of their political spokesman and the head of their negotiating team: "an initiative for media purposes". [4]

"Everyone knows that it is not possible to have a ceasefire agreement without the participation of the STC," said the Special Representative of the STC President for Foreign Affairs to "South24". According to "Amr Al-Bidh" this was the reason behind the focus on a "ceasefire in Marib during Muscat negotiations".

Al-Bidh clarified that the topic of a "ceasefire" will be presented this time "when going back to Riyadh" pointing out the agreement is the "gateway" which the STC will enter to such negotiations of this kind after forming a joint negotiating delegate.

The return to Riyadh Agreement

After the failure of Muscat talks with the Houthis and the rejection of the Saudi initiative for a ceasefire, it seems that Saudi is heading one more time to gather the STC and the legitimate government on the table negotiating table in what was seemed like a "pressure" attempt on the Houthis who seek to score a military victory in the strategic and important city of Marib. The success of the Agreement on the ground and implementing its agendas' will unify military and political efforts against it. 

On that, Amr Al-Bidh has mentioned that the return of the STC delegate to Riyadh is not a "third negotiating round for another topic" but comes in "completing to the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement."

Al-Bidh indicated that this return comes after forming the parity government which was a "single point out of the Riyadh Agreement multiple points". Assuring that there are "many other points remains to negotiate about and implement to conclude the agreement".

Primarily, the STC holds on 4 principles in their negotiating: Splitting authority, the withdraw of Northern military personnel from South's territories, integrating and labelling their forces with the legitimate government forces and participating in the joint delegate alongside the government in peace and resolution processes. 

International reports have spoken lately on international efforts to terminate the Security Council resolution 2216 which rejected the coup on president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi legitimacy and their return to Sanaa and to replace it with a new resolution under chapter VII.

The Security Council said in their periodic publication for May 2021 that Security Council members "can look on taking a new decision that calls for a nationwide ceasefire and force the engagement of additional Yemeni conflict-related parties in the political negotiation to renew the bilateral frame which was set between the Houthi and the government stated in the 2216 resolutions issued on 14 April 2015". [5] 

The return of the parity government to Aden

"The return of the parity government to Aden is a priority to the Council". The STC Spokesperson, Ali Al-Kathiri pointed out in a statement to Xinhua. Affirming the STC's "positive" handling of the Saudi invitation to head to Riyadh. [6]

According to high ranking STC official, the return of the parity government to Aden "is not enough" because the " essence of the problem" lays "in their disability to provide services and perform their entrusted tasks, as well for residing in a place out of Aden is a serious violation to the Riyadh Agreement". The source also noted, "economic points" within the Riyadh Agreement which the STC will strictly emphasize on implementing one in which "pumping oil revenues to the central bank in Aden". 

South24 attempted to obtain government comments on these developments, but the center has yet to receive any. 

Lately, the Houthis responded to international pressure and conducted direct meetings with the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths in parallel to international and domestic officials' statements which emphasized the importance of completing the Riyadh Agreement. Observers fear that the Riyadh Agreement, which Saudi did not refer to in their latest initiative, is just a manoeuvre to force the Houthi to back off from their strict positions towards international suggestions to resolve the conflict.

- Jacob Al-sufyani is a journalist and reporter at South24 Center for News and Studies
- Photo: Aidros Al-Zubaidi (STC)
- Read on Arabic

Riyadh AgreementUAESouth YemenYemens warYemen's governmentSTCSaudi Arabia