A Complex Crisis Will be Inherited by the New UN Envoy to Yemen: Will He Succeed


Mon, 05-07-2021 08:39 PM, Aden

Jacob Al-Sufyani (South24)

Informed sources in New York revealed to foreign and Arab media, (1) on Saturday, that the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has appointed Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg as the new UN envoy to Yemen, to succeed Britain's Martin Griffiths.

Sources stated that Guterres "will inform parties in the Yemeni crisis of his decision soon". So far, there has been no official announcement from the United Nations to appoint the Swedish diplomat as envoy to Yemen, but - according to Reuters - he is the most prominent candidate to succeed Griffiths along with the British diplomat, Nicholas Kay.

Hans Grundberg

A Swedish diplomat described by observers as a "professional in Middle East affairs and conflict resolution," has been the European Union's ambassador to Yemen since 2019, and previously served as head of the Swedish and European Union missions to Cairo, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He also headed the Gulf Department at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm.

During his work as ambassador of the European Union in Yemen, Grundberg was one of the most prominent diplomats who sought to reconcile the parties in the Yemeni crisis and bring views together in order to initiate comprehensive negotiations and a political solution to the crisis, in parallel with other larger efforts of the UN and US envoys.

Grundberg met with officials and representatives from all the main parties in Yemen, from the Yemeni government and the STC, as well as with leaders from the Houthis.

The last of these meetings was with the head of the STC negotiating delegation, Nasser Al-Khubaji, and the Yemeni Vice President, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, a week ago.

UN envoy

Observers considered the decision to appoint Grundberg a UN envoy to Yemen as an implicit declaration from London, to which the former UN envoy belongs, and Washington, whose envoy has spearheaded international diplomatic efforts to resolve the Yemeni crisis with Griffiths in recent months, as a failure of the two countries' efforts to establish peace.

The Yemeni writer and journalist in Al-Arab in London, Saleh Al Baidhani, agrees with this view, who considered Grundberg's appointment "continuation of the ideal romantic approach in dealing with the Yemeni crisis during the coming period (auto-twitter translation)."

The UN envoy to Yemen and British diplomat, Martin Griffiths, gave his last briefing to the Security Council in mid-June, in which he announced the failure of his efforts to reach a nationwide ceasefire agreement, and to push the parties to the Yemeni crisis to engage in serious peace negotiations.

Politicians indicated that appointing Grundberg to succeed Griffiths means handing over the Yemeni crisis file to the European Union, with a decline in the British and possibly American role to some extent, especially after the failure of their envoys to persuade the Houthis to stop the war on Marib, the last stronghold of the Yemeni government in North Yemen, and to reach a ceasefire .

The European Union's policy towards the crises in the Middle East is represented by flexibility and openness to all parties of the conflict, with priority given to the humanitarian aspect mainly, according to experts.

Different approach

In an analytical report at the International Crisis Group, the group's senior Yemen analyst, Peter Salisbury, considered that "the better question is not who the envoy will be, but what job description the new person will have."

Salisbury said that the appointment of a new UN envoy to Yemen is an opportunity "to develop a new approach," noting that "the situation in Yemen has changed significantly since the war broke out, and it is time for mediation efforts to catch up."

Salisbury pointed out that the approach of those who preceded the new envoy, represented in "resolution 2216 names the Huthis, who had seized Sanaa the previous September, along with the Saudi-backed government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi that they ousted, as the conflict’s two primary belligerents."

The expert at the International Crisis Group also sees the need to involve "other actors" in the negotiations to resolve the crisis, a political solution and bring peace, as this approach is different and may make progress for the new envoy, unlike the previous one.

Complex crisis

Read more: UN Envoys to Yemen: A Series of Three Seasons, Will The Fourth Be The Last?

The Yemeni crisis differs from the rest of the crises in the Middle East and the world in that it is a result of previous crises that have been forming for decades since the signing of the political Unity Agreement between the countries of South and North Yemen, and it carries within it pivotal crises that extend back to much before 2015, and are not the result of the events of the so-called “Arab Spring.”

The Southern cause stands at the top of these issues and crises that have arisen for factors and reasons very different from the causes of the ongoing 2015 crisis so far, even though it provided an opportunity for the Southern forces that adopt the cause of South Yemen to strengthen their presence and position.

The success of the new UN envoy depends mainly to which extent the reality of the crisis in Yemen is understood, its deep internal rooting, the reality on the ground, and the removal of this crisis from the frame of the “Hadi government and the Houthis” and the issue of the “coup.”

Throughout the previous years and since his appointment in 2018, Martin Griffiths has been revolving around the Yemeni crisis in a repetitive cycle of the two poles of the "Hadi government and the Houthi", with a real neglect of the role of other actors, especially the STC, the main and most prominent force in South Yemen.

Griffiths' pursuit of what was known at the time as the "joint agreement" between the parties to the Yemeni crisis was hit by a solid wall of Houthi intransigence, which is reinforced by the weakness and fragility of his opponent (Hadi's government), and the absence of the STC condemned this endeavor to an early abortion, given the STC's assertion that they are "not obligated to any commitments from agreements in which he did not participate as a representative of the Southerners.”

Grundberg sent early signals that he understands the reality of the Yemeni crisis and its parties, and he repeatedly met officials and prominent political leaders in the STC; These are meetings in which the Council stressed the need to include it as a key party in resolving the crisis.

STC President, Aidrous Al-Zubaidi and Hans Grundberg. Riyadh – October 2020 (official)

It should be noted that current negotiations are taking place in Riyadh between representatives of the STC and the Hadi government to “complete the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.” Among these items is the formation of a joint negotiating delegation between the two parties, before it was suspended recently after the escalation crisis between the STC and Hadi’s government.

Initial Houthi position

The Houthi group that controls North Yemen, and the head of the group's "Supreme Revolutionary Committee", Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, announced what looks like a "quick position" from the new UN envoy. Mohammed tweeted that " No new envoy will bring anything new and he cannot break the ice as long as the policy of supporting aggression and the continuation of the siege is their prevailing approach and slogan (auto-twitter translation)."

The Houthis have always adhered to the demands of opening Sanaa airport and the port of Hodeidah and stopping air strikes as prerequisites before any ceasefire agreement, and entering into negotiations to resolve the crisis.

The Houthi's tried to "humanize" these demands, and isolate them from the military and political reality, which was the main reason for the failure of Griffith's and Lenderking efforts over the previous months in Oman.

Direct negotiations with the Houthis in Muscat did not make any progress in resolving the crisis, and the Omani royal delegation that visited Sanaa and met with the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, was not informed of any developments, according to Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Bin Mubarak.

According to Elana DeLozier, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "designed to push the parties closer to peace, the recent uptick in international political will to end the war seems instead to have emboldened Houthi perceptions of their negotiating position."

Most likely, the efforts and endeavors of the expected new UN envoy will be shocked by the same Houthi behavior, which requires a change in Griffith’s strategy to beg for peace from the Houthi, and pressure towards negotiations for a political solution with the participation of strong parties in the field, such as the STC.

Jacob Al-Sufyani
Journalist editor at South24 Center for News and Studies
Photo: UNDP at EU/Twitter