Rimbo, Sweden

13 December 2018

Joint Press Encounter with Swedish Foreign Minister and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen Martin Griffiths on Intra-Yemeni Consultations

Secretary-General: Thank you very much for being here.

We are living the beginning of the end of one of the biggest tragedies of the 21st century -- the conflict in Yemen, the worst humanitarian situation that we face.

We need, first of all, to pay tribute to the courage and determination of the two delegations that were able to overcome many difficulties, many different positions, many obstacles, and to really start a serious process to build a common future.

Today’s agreement is particularly important because it includes Hodeidah. And it is my deep belief that the question of Hodeidah was the “make it or break it” [one], in relation to making sure that this could be the first step of a process that, we hope, will lead to the end of the conflict – or if it would just be a meeting between two delegations with some positive aspects but without a structural change in the situation that we face.

I strongly believe that the fact that it was possible to come to an agreement on Hodeidah will have a huge impact, both for the security situation of the area and for the life of the people of the area, but [also] a huge impact in the humanitarian situation of the country. The fact that we came to an agreement on Hodeidah – that many would consider the most difficult of the problems on the table – gives us the hope that this process will now be moving step by step and that we will be able overcome all the obstacles that we face, knowing that only a politic solution can solve the problem. There is no military solution in Yemen. I think all parties have understood that. And the agreement of today is a demonstration that they are serious in moving with all the obstacles, with all the difficulties. This will be a complex and lengthy process, but the parties want to move towards a solution and that is for me the most important signal of today’s meeting.

I want once again to thank our host. I want to pay tribute to the team that Martin Griffiths has led. I followed these negotiations closely and I have never seen someone shuttling so much, from capital to capital, speaking to so many people, so many times, to make sure it would be possible to come to where we are. And I pay tribute once again to the two delegations that were able to come to the understandings of today.

But allow me to repeat what I said in the session. I worked a lot with Yemen as High Commissioner for Refugees and I can tell you, the generosity, the solidarity, the hospitality of the people of Yemen is absolutely outstanding. I have seen Yemenis sharing the very little they had with Somalis coming to the coast, risking their lives to support those that were seeking protection in Yemen. Yemen which had problems, including already during the civil war, still receiving Somalis with their doors, their hearts and their borders open. It is a lesson for the world when unfortunately, so many borders, so many doors and so many hearts are closed today.

The Yemenis deserve all the efforts that the international community can make. And I felt also during this process that all the key regional actors and all the members of the international community, the permanent five members of the Security Council, all the elected members of the Security Council, all other countries that have direct or indirect contact with Yemen--they were all committed to make sure that peace would prevail and that we would really have a meaningful first step in the direction of peace.

There is a long way to go. There are lots of issues to discuss. There are lots of agreements still needed. This is just a beginning. But at least, it’s the beginning of a process in which there is a clear will to come to an end result that is peace in Yemen and the future that the Yemeni people deserve.

Q: Could you please share with us what kind of forces we should expect in Hodeidah? And is there an agreement on the airstrikes?

SG: There is a ceasefire declared for the whole Governorate of Hodeidah in the agreement. There will be, both for the city and the harbour, a withdrawal of all forces. And of course, the order will be maintained – I mean, in the harbour, the UN will assume a very important monitoring role, and in the city, the order will be maintained by local forces in accordance with Yemeni law. In relation to other areas of the territory, there was not yet and agreement in relation to a ceasefire. But that is why I said this is the beginning of a process – but it is a very meaningful beginning. Because this was indeed the central question that was paralyzing all the possibilities of progress.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General if someone wants to be optimistic, then we see the agreement that the cup is half full, the glass is half full so can be optimistic on this side. Can I ask you what… Can the United Nations be a guarantor to the implementation of the three agreements and what will happen if one or both parties did not fulfil his commitment? And can I ask your Special Envoy: what was your suggestion for Sana’a and Aden airport and what was the sticking point which, let’s say, postponed the agreement?

SG: I would like to change the usual image of the glass half full and half empty. If this is the glass, the glass was empty. What we did was to start putting some water in the glass. But there is still a long way to go. So this was the beginning of filling the glass. What is important is that it is a beginning that is meaningful. If we only have an exchange of prisoners, it would be very important for the prisoners, it would be very meaningful for the families, but it would not really mean progress on central issues. But everybody agrees that the most difficult problem we had on the table was Hodeidah. And the fact that it was possible to have an agreement on Hodeidah proves that we are really, still, with the bottle ready to go on pouring water until the glass is full. And the glass is full is: peace in Yemen with a full Yemeni political solution for Yemeni problems. So it’s not yet even half full. We are beginning to fill the glass, but we are determined to move on.

Now, I do not have the possibility to decide what the Security Council will do. My wish is that there will be a robust Security Council resolution in relation to the agreement that was reached, to allow for a very effective mechanism of monitoring. And there were a number of countries that put their services at our disposal with the technologies that are necessary for that, to make sure that the redeployment of forces will be effectively monitored and that the agreements will be effectively implemented. Implementation is crucial. Obviously, if one of the sides does not implement the agreement, that will kill the agreement. And we hope it will not happen because there was such a commitment to come to this agreement and many obstacles were removed. This was not an easy thing to do. I remember when we left yesterday at 2:00 in the morning after serious discussions. And when I in the early morning asked him [Martin Griffiths] an important information, when he got it he sent it at 4:00 in the morning, so I believe this gentleman did not sleep. So there was a lot of work on this. But what I feel is that that work demonstrates that there is a serious commitment to make sure that the agreement is implemented. And the proof is that in other areas, we are not yet there, and we will go on discussing. Questions related to the economic dimensions, questions related to the airport --and I will leave it to Martin-- are not yet solved. They are being discussed but… So we concentrated a lot, as you can imagine, on Hodeidah because of the importance, strategic importance of the issue from all aspects and also the symbolic aspect, to give, I’d say, a clear demonstration that we are indeed moving forward. But in relation to the airport, please.

Martin Griffiths: As the Secretary-General says, we are still going to be negotiating on a few issues which we had hope to cross the line on today. And in fact, as we were here for the closing ceremony, behind the scenes, we had our colleagues bringing texts to and from both sides of the room. I don’t think it would be right to give you a specific outline of the kind of things we would like to see on the airport but it is clear – and it is public knowledge – that the starting point on the airport is opening it up to commercial flights, maybe domestic first, and that the UN wants to see that airport open as soon as possible, as agreed by the parties. And I would like to think that over the next week, maybe less, we might find an agreement. We don’t have to be here to get an agreement and that, I think, is the point the Secretary-General made in the closing ceremony. We are going to keep on negotiating. Sweden will continue without Sweden. Can I just reinforce the point the Secretary-General made: Hodeidah was a difficult one to do – as you know, you’ve been following it. It’s the center of gravity of the war in Yemen. It has been a consistent issue of negotiation. We are very proud. I think the parties have asked the United Nations, perhaps with a good mandate of the Security Council – there will be a meeting of the Council tomorrow-, to take a real role in ensuring that their commitments are properly and robustly monitored and reported on. This has not happened in Yemen before. This is a first.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, when will the port of Hodeidah be opened up for traffic so aid can start to arrive in Yemen?

SG: To give you a perfectly honest answer: I don’t know. We will do everything possible to make it happen as soon as possible.

Q: Then how can we trust this agreement?

SG: I don’t ask you to trust the agreement at this moment. Let’s see how the agreement is implemented and if the agreement is properly implemented, as we believe it will be, you will then find the trust in it.

Q: Mr. Guterres do you plan on trying to involve the foreign parties in this conflict such as Saudi Arabia and Iran in coming talks? And can there really be a lasting solution without their direct involvement?

SG: It is clear that these are Yemeni-led negotiations, intra-Yemeni negotiations. But of course, the countries you mentioned and several others are very relevant in the context of the region and are very relevant in the context of the Yemen conflict. And so, obviously, there has been very relevant consultations with the two that you mentioned and all other regional parties. I must say, I am deeply grateful for the very constructive approach that I felt in the last few weeks in order to facilitate the creation of the conditions for this agreement to be possible.

Q: With regard to Hodeidah, are there any particular regions that it will be withdrawn from? Do you have support from the United States with regard to you going tomorrow to the Security Council?

SG: First of all, there are clear indications on how this will be implemented on the ground. There were maps that were discussed and seen. So we are not talking of things in the abstract. We are talking [about] very concrete things. And there is an annex to the agreement with the details that will also be available for the Security Council. I do believe that all the permanent members of the Security Council and all the elected members of the Security Council will be supportive. But I mean, I cannot speak for them today. In the contacts I had with the Security Council before, I felt that there was a clear indication of a positive inclination for a resolution of the Security Council post-agreement. And of course, that resolution, from my perspective, would be very important to give a robust mechanism of monitoring and verification. And I have to say that the United States, that you have mentioned, not only have showed positive indications in relation to that but also the availability of technological means to allow for the monitoring to be very effective.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, we have not seen the parties signing the Hodeidah agreement. Why? When are we going to see them sign the agreement? Also, what are the main areas of disagreement regarding the Central Bank and Taiz?

SG: It was never foreseen that there would be a signature. We agreed on a text and the two parties were very clear on their support to that and on the support to the implementation. So there was not… As this is an ongoing process with different areas, we have now reached agreement on three of them, and there will be new agreements on new aspects as time goes by. We did not foresee a signature ceremony. That, in our opinion, would not be necessary. In relation to Taiz, there was an understanding and so I believe that we will have no difficulty in what we now want to have in relation to access, corridors, demining and all the other aspects. I believe that there was complete agreement between the two sides. In relation to the other aspects, there is still a lot to discuss. I believe we all felt how important it is, namely for people to receive their salaries. We all felt how important it is for people to Sana’a to be able to travel. So these are things that still need more time to find the formulas that can be acceptable for both sides – even if in principle, both sides agree that these things should move forward. But, as you know, there are still many areas in which there is a clear division and so it will take some time to be able to overcome the differences of position that still exist. But our determination is to move forward as quickly as possible and to push more as quickly as possible for salaries to be able to be paid and for the measures of economic reform that are necessary to be taken, and at the same time, to make sure that we find a way to allow for the Sana’a airport to be open.

Griffiths: Can I just add to that? As the Secretary-General said, there are very specific texts. This is not just wishful thinking. There are texts which have been agreed word by word -- that is why it has taken us some time. The withdrawals, you had the question: “How do we know if it’s happening?” There are phases by the days, of what needs to happen from what are to the other in Hodeidah. This is tangible, real, verifiable, monitorable agreements. Of course, you can’t get agreement on everything. These two parties still have a lot to do to come together on the issues of sovereignty and so forth – of course they do. But Hodeidah is a practical agreement worked out by experts on both sides. And I think the reason why we are being slightly careful about giving any details is that this will be something that will be put before the Security Council tomorrow and it will be for them to decide how they would like to see it implemented. But every sign is that they would be very willing to do so and that is a first. These will be the first withdrawals of any forces in the history of this conflict. And it will be done in the area of the greatest sensitivity, difficulty and danger. That’s what those two sides have agreed.

Q: You mentioned that the UN will play a role in the port in Hodeidah. Can you expand on that? And secondly, officials from the Yemeni Government have been saying that we can expect some kind of pullout in the second phase from the Houthis within 21 days or so and we should also see them withdrawn from the other ports. Can you comment on that?

SG: Yes, it was agreed that there would be a withdrawal, not only from the port, from the city, of all forces. The timeframe that we are preparing to make sure that they work is short. There will be two phases – which are agreed. It will be short. We need to now put in place the mechanism of verification on the ground. It is obvious that the UN will play an important role in the port, probably a monitoring role, of course there is a management of the port that exist. There is a lot to be done to make sure that the port fully corresponds to our expectations, which is to be an infrastructure able to provide what was lacking: the capacity for the Yemen population to have all the humanitarian assistance they need and the Yemen economy to benefit from a safe entry point. And as you said, it is not only this port, the three are covered by the same agreement.

Griffiths: And if I may just add and reinforce that last point, Secretary-General. This agreement on Hodeidah, made in a very difficult place, is of extraordinary importance for humanitarian reasons. We’ve had with us throughout the 6-7 days here, people from humanitarian agencies that are present. The design of the withdrawal, first of all from the ports – three ports – very quickly, within days, and then from the city, of both sides disengaging, is designed in order to open up that east-west road so that humanitarian pipeline – which is crucial for the survival of those people in Yemen who need humanitarian aid, is opened up again, as it is not at the moment. This has been agreed by both sides. Thank you.