Transcript of Special Envoy's press conference at Sana'a airport

31 May 2021

Transcript of Special Envoy's press conference at Sana'a airport

Good afternoon, Thank you all for being here today.

The United Nations has been mediating between the parties to achieve a nationwide ceasefire, lift restrictions on the freedom of movement of people and commodities to and from Yemen, and relaunch the political process. These elements have been under negotiation for over a year now. Throughout this process, we have suggested several ways to bridge the gap between the parties and their positions. I have discussed this plan with Yemeni and Saudi officials in Riyadh several times. I have discussed it also in Muscat, most recently just a few days ago. And I have also discussed it yesterday with Mr. Abdul Malik Al Houthi here, in Sana’a. 
I need to tell you that there is considerable regional and international support for the United Nations plan and our efforts. But more important than that is the fact that this is the desire of the Yemeni people who wish this war to end and wish to recover their freedoms. We hope that that support from the Yemeni people and from the regional and international organisations, and all the work we have done on the parties for the past year might finally yield results and bring this negotiation, this long negotiation to a successful conclusion.

Our positions, the positions of the United Nations have been clear and unequivocal, and I want to repeat them here for you. This is our view:
First: All impediments to the access of Yemeni people to food and essential commodities, including fuel, must be removed. The flow of imports of goods, including fuel, into and throughout Yemen for civilian use must be ensured as a matter of principle regardless of political and military considerations. All our proposals that we have been negotiating for the past year have included lifting access restrictions on the Hudaydah ports, particularly as it pertains to the entry of fuel ships.

Second: a nationwide ceasefire is urgently required to provide immediate humanitarian relief to the people of Yemen, to open roads for the free movement of people and goods and to return a sense of normal life for the people of Yemen. The continuation of military activities in several parts of the country, including Marib, is undermining in my view the prospects of peace in Yemen. It puts lives of millions at risk. And this war needs to end.

Third: All our proposals have also guaranteed the re-opening of this airport where we are speaking today, Sana’a airport. The opening of this airport to commercial traffic is essential for the freedom of movement.
All these proposals are in line with the stated desire and public statements by the parties, by all the parties, about prioritising the humanitarian needs of Yemen. However, we have yet to see an agreement.

Fourth and equally important: An end to the cycle of political upheaval and violence can only be achieved through a negotiated settlement that ushers in a future of sustained Yemeni-Yemeni political dialogue, accountable governance, economic justice and equal citizenship for all. This is the guiding principle for the United Nations’ mediation efforts in Yemen.

It is my view that it is unfair to deny to the people of Yemen the hope that there is an end in sight to their suffering. It is entirely unfair to deny them the prospects of a brighter future. Yemen will be sustainably governed without military dominance. It will also be sustainably governed without external interference.
I know how difficult a decision it is to transition from wartime to peacetime; to demand the greatest concessions and sacrifice in leadership of the parties. It takes courage to move away from war and the suffering of war and to enter into the uncertainties of peace. It takes courage. And I just hope with you that that courage will be found in the leadership and the people of Yemen to end this conflict and build on the issues that I have been discussing. Thank you.

Questions and Answers 

[N.B: Questions were posed in Arabic and were inaudible. The questions were roughly translated into English]

In Muscat, it is noted that Hadi, his government, and the Southern Transitional Council were absent. The Americans, the Saudis, and the party of Ansar Allah party, or the Supreme Political Council, were present. Does the presence of the real war parties on the table today give a difference prospective from the previous negotiations in which the real parties themselves were absent from the table? And what is the role of Lenderking or the Americans in general? Is their role limited to providing guarantees or negotiation?

Mr. Griffiths: As you know, the negotiations have been happening for the last year and a half largely due to the COVID virus was shuttle negotiations; I go for one party and then I go to the other, and I take messages from one to the other. No agreement will be reached unless the two parties, the government of Yemen and Ansar Allah agree. Their obligation, their responsibility is to make those decisions. But its my job to go anywhere, where I can learn from people how to make progress on these four points. I have just been in Riyadh before Muscat, where I met the senior leadership of the Government of Yemen. There is no exclusion, my mandate is very clear to secure an agreement between the government of Yemen and Ansar Allah to end this war. You asked a question about the US special envoy. We work very closely with Mr. Lenderking, the United States has been very helpful to us, as many other members states. The United Nations envoy works with any member state that can help. That is why I was saying earlier that there is an extraordinary amount of diplomatic consensus in support of these proposals.

Everyone is wondering, the Sana'a government and Ansar Allah say that they want the entrance of oil derivatives and foodstuffs. On the other hand, the other side demands an end to the war. Is it reasonable that the point of oil derivatives and a humanitarian situation is difficult for the SLC to be achieve?

Mr. Griffiths: As I said earlier, the United Nations has been consistent, every month in the Security Council the last three years in favor of lifting impediments on the entry of ships into Hudaydah. We see this as a humanitarian issue and that the people throughout Yemen need to benefit with no impediments from the flow of commodities. Including fuel. We are working very closely not just perhaps to get some more fuel ships coming in from time to time, but to open up the ports on a normal basis. We are very much encouraged in fact by the responses we get from the Government of Yemen and the Coalition. And I hope we can see progress quite soon on that. But I want to make one additional point: a nationwide ceasefire is as humanitarian as anything can be. To open up the roads to allow children to go to school, to allow the people to go to work, to allow trade to happen, to allow families to be reunited, that’s humanitarian. So we do not see it as neither or, we think both are very important. 

Mr. Martin, now there are many rounds of negotiations waged by all the Yemeni parties, as well as Saudi Arabia and all the participants in this battle. But so far, we have seen only a few initiatives that reached anything and then stopped. We did not find any negotiations after that, or there were no initiatives that reached a point where a peace process could begin. When can we say that any upcoming negotiations will be really serious negotiations as long as the negotiations have moved from Yemeni to Yemeni to Yemeni with the coalition parties and the fighting parties that are actively participating in the battle? What can we call the upcoming negotiations? And when a serious negotiation can exist?

Well, look. Nobody can be more frustrated than I am. We have spent a year and a half on things which are relatively simple to describe, the ceasefire, the opening of Sana’a Airport, the opening of Hudaydah ports, the much delayed start of the political negotiations. We have been negotiating this in detail word by word by word with both parties for a year and a half. Let me be honest with you. Sometimes we make good progress, and we think that it’s going to work, that we will get an agreement. And then the war intervenes and one or other party thinks they will gain more in the battlefield, until they do not want to end the war yet. Our call is very simple: stop the war, stop the prospect of military gain, end the conflict, build peace in Yemen, make Yemen a place for the people of Yemen.
You asked me when might happen? I am always accused of being much too optimistic. I am not sure it is going to happen today. We are taking from our meeting yesterday with Abdel Malik al Houthi some ideas which we will share with the other side. What I can say is that there is a real diplomatic energy now, which hasn’t always been the case. I think it is powerful but many of the issues - not all - are humanitarian. I think this is very powerful, very powerful reason for why leaders need to come to an urgent agreement.

Thank you very much. Thank you. Really appreciate it.