Saleh in good health; alternatives for Geneva considered for Yemeni-Saudi talks

Ahmed Eleiba , Thursday 10 Mar 2016

Talks took place this week between the Houthi rebels and the Saudis in the city of Abha in Saudi Arabia

Yemen’s ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh (Photo: Reuters)

Yemen's ousted president Ali Abdallah Saleh supports the direct talks with Saudi Arabia that are currently in their preliminary phases, a source close to the former Yemeni leader told Ahram Online, adding that he is in "good health."

The source, who said he met with Saleh on Thursday, denied media reports that the ousted president was ill.

"Saleh believes that direct negotiations with Saudi Arabia is the shortest road and most beneficial option to ending the war, and he called for that one month ago," the source said, noting that Saleh is "paying little attention" to claims about his endeavours to get a safe exit for himself.

It is still too early, according to the source, to know whether the talks will succeed or not, as "the issue will apparently take some time."

The source revealed that a previous round of talks was held in Oman, which played a key role in pushing for talks between both parties to the conflict, aiming to make Yemen "avoid a continuation of the chaos caused by civil war."

A Saudi-led coalition along with fighters loyal to Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are battling Houthi militias and loyalists of the country's former leader Saleh in a war that has drawn on for a year and resulted in the death of over 6,000 people.

On a domestic level, the source unveiled that there are talks within the camp of Saleh and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels on the post-war arrangements, including reconstruction, reparations, as well as their demands for the next government in Sanaa that will be reached through an agreement with Riyadh.

The source said also that only the Houthis, not Saleh, were involved in the talks that happened in the Saudi city of Abha this week, adding that another round of talks will take place.

If the talks proved successful, the source said, a place other than Geneva will be chosen, with some countries suggested holding talks such as Jordan, Oman or Egypt.

The source concluded by saying that Saleh and his close circles prefer Cairo, though other parties did not back this choice for "logistical reasons", including their desire to stay away from the media outlets in Cairo. He added that even Cairo has no willingness to get engaged in the process.

The source however mentioned that Cairo is aware of the flow of events in the Yemeni crisis, and a Yemeni delegation is currently in Cairo to inform Egyptian officials about the recent developments.

Meanwhile, concerning the recent statement by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who stressed that Tehran is ready to intervene in the Yemeni issue, another Yemeni source said there are two objectives behind such an announcement.

On the one hand, Iran wants to increase the chances of the Houthis of achieving their demands in the talks. The statement, on the other hand, is a reaction to Saudi Arabia's earlier statement about its readiness to launch a ground invasion in Syria.

Nevertheless, perhaps for the first time ever, Houthi leading figure Youssef Al-Fashi urged Iran to step interfering in Yemeni affairs.

Al-Fashi, in a statement posted on his Facebook page, said that Iran has to remain silent and stop "taking advantage" of the situation in Yemen.

This statement came as a response to the announcement of an Iranian army general about the possibility of sending military advisers to support the Houthi militants against the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

Abdel Aziz Al-Megedy, a Yemeni political analyst, told Ahram Online that such development came in the context of the Abha talks, arguing that it only expresses the views of Al-Fashi—not all Houthis— as the Houthi-Iranian relations will always be in place.

Yemeni sources told Ahram Online on Tuesday that a Houthi delegation has arrived in the Saudi city of Abha for talks with Saudi security officials on Monday.

According to the sources, the Saudi officials who met with Houthi representatives are neither responsible for leading the military operation in Yemen nor involved in the conflict settlement process, adding that the militants demanded direct talks with Saudi leaders.

The sources, speaking anonymously to Ahram Online from Riyadh, Dubai, and Aden, stated that Saudi Arabia has not yet reached a decision regarding the Houthi demand, especially as the former lacks trust in both the Houthis and ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

One of the sources revealed that leading Houthi figure Mohamed Abdel Salam is heading the delegation to Saudi Arabia, pointing out that Houthi forces have released a Saudi hostage without prior negotiations and without the return of any Houthis currently detained by Saudi authorities.

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