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‘Achieved our goals’: Yemen’s separatists abandon self-rule | Saudi Arabia News

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Yemen’s southern separatists have pledged to abandon their aspirations for self-rule and implement a Saudi-brokered power-sharing agreement with the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Southern Transitional Council’s (STC) announcement on Wednesday marked a major step towards closing a dangerous rift between the nominal allies in Yemen’s chaotic proxy war, and came hours after Saudi Arabia presented a plan to “accelerate” the stalled peace deal’s implementation. 

The proposal calls for the formation of a new government within 30 days and the appointment of a new governor and security director for Aden, the interim seat of Hadi’s government.

“We have achieved our goals” Nizar Haitham, spokesman for the STC, said in a Twitter post.

“The Southern Transitional Council announces the abandonment of the declaration of self-administration in order to allow the Arab alliance to implement the Riyadh agreement,” he said. 

The announcement followed intense pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Haitham noted, and affirmed “the continuing and deepening” of the STC’s “strategic partnership with the Arab coalition”.

Last year’s power-sharing deal, signed in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, set the stage for the end of a long-running rivalry between the Saudi-backed Hadi government and the UAE-backed southern separatists. Both sides are supposed allies in the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who control the country’s capital, Sanaa.

The Riyadh agreement proposed the formation of a new cabinet made up equally between the north and south and the centralisation of all armed groups under government control.

But the deal was thrown into disarray in April, when the separatists declared self-rule and seized control of the port city of Aden, in a move that ignited fierce fighting across southern Yemen and the Socotra archipelago.

The standoff between Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s respective allies in Yemen has threatened to shatter the coalition and complicated broader peace efforts to end the five-year conflict, which has killed more than 112,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Saudi proposal

The Saudi plan on Wednesday lays out commitments that have been obstacles for months, such as the formation of a government composed of 24 ministers with equal representation for northerners and southerners, including the separatists. It also asks for the withdrawal of rival forces from Aden and the flashpoint southern province of Abyan.

The blueprint gives Yemen’s current prime minister, Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, the mandate to form a government over the next month. And shortly after the STC accouncement, Yemen’s state-run SABA news agency named the newly appointed security director and governor of Aden – Ahmed al-Amlas. 

Rajih Badi, a spokesman for Hadi’s government, welcomed the Saudi initiative and expressed hope that the separatists would make good on their promise to implement the agreement “out of necessary and urgent national interest”.

Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s vice minister of defence, said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “efforts have succeeded” to implement the Riyadh deal “and achieve lasting peace, security, and prosperity for Yemen”.

The rapprochement comes as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the conflict’s main sponsors, have sought to inch away from their war with the Houthi rebels, which has pushed millions to the brink of famine and settled into a bloody stalemate.

Saudi Arabia announced a unilateral ceasefire earlier this year, which swiftly collapsed but more broadly reflected its growing unease with the war. Last summer, the UAE announced it was ending its role in the conflict, although it continues to wield influence through its proxies, such as the separatist group.

‘New phase of prolonged escalation’

Mahjoob Zweiri, director of the Gulf Studies Center in Doha, Qatar, said Wednesday’s developments indicate that “all parties are tired and exhausted by this conflict”.

“But I’m not sure the Riyadh agreement can be implemented, taking into consideration two important facts,” he told Al Jazeera.

“First, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi do not agree 100 percent on how things should be moved. Second, it’s not only those two countries that can decide the situation in Yemen. They also need the international community on board, including the United Nations, Iran. But none of these players have confidence in [Saudi and the UAE].”

He added: “There is no long-term vision. There are different parties with different agendas and no agreement on where things should go”.

Although the deal is not likely to be a step towards lasting peace, even the vague prospect of a settlement was welcome, as Yemen’s devastated health sector grapples with a major coronavirus outbreak and the country faces a drastic shortfall of humanitarian aid that has forced 75 percent of UN programmes for the country to end or reduce operations.

On Tuesday, UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths painted a bleak picture of the situation in Yemen to the Security Council.

UN-mediated peace negotiations between the rebels and government have failed to produce an agreement, he said.

Houthi forces were pushing fiercely into the oil-rich province of Marib “with profound humanitarian and economic consequences”, Griffiths said, while missile attacks across the northwest have resulted in civilian deaths, many of whom were children.

Yemen’s economy is collapsing, he continued, food prices are surging, and to make matters worse, an abandoned oil tanker moored off the coast and loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil is at risk of rupture or exploding.

“I do not wish to sugarcoat things,” Griffiths said, warning that the country could plunge at any moment into “a new phase of prolonged escalation, uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, and economic decline”.



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Iran and world powers hint at talks over nuclear deal | Nuclear Energy News

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Tehran, Iran – Unofficial talks between Iran and world powers that signed an ailing 2015 nuclear deal appear to be the only way forward as neither side seems willing to take the first step.

Iran says the United States, which in 2018 unilaterally abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), must first return to full compliance under the accord by lifting all economic sanctions it imposed.

President Joe Biden has said former US leader Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has failed, but nevertheless insists Iran must first reverse steps to reduce its commitments under the deal in response to the sanctions.

This week, Iran said it is considering an offer by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to hold unofficial talks with the P4+1 – China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany minus the US – that would also include the US as a “guest”.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said it is likely officials from Tehran and Washington would sit together at an informal meeting hosted by the EU in the coming weeks.

“There, they are likely to agree to an interim set of measures to buy more time for negotiating a timetable for a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA,” he told Al Jazeera.

The meeting was called in light of Iran’s latest move on Tuesday to stop voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol – a document that gives the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) broad inspection authorities of Iranian nuclear sites.

In a statement after Iran stopped providing the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog with short-notice inspection capabilities, the three European signatories of the nuclear deal called the move “dangerous”.

“It will significantly constrain the IAEA’s access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information,” the E3 foreign ministers said. “It will also constrain the IAEA’s ability to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear programme and nuclear-related activities.”

Three-month window

But an agreement Iran’s government reached with the IAEA on Sunday seems to have bought more time for diplomacy.

After IAEA General Director Rafael Grossi travelled to Tehran, the two sides agreed Iran would continue monitoring activities of its nuclear sites, but would not hand over the camera tapes.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced that if the US fails to lift sanctions on Iran within those three months, the data would be permanently deleted, leaving a gap in the IAEA’s monitoring of the country’s nuclear activities.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said earlier this week the US has imposed 1,600 sanctions on Iran, all of which need to be lifted to restore the nuclear deal.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said this week Iran could boost its uranium enrichment to a purity of 60 percent from the current 20 percent if the country needs to, but stressed his nation does not seek nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Iran’s ambassador in Geneva told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament it is up to the United States to make the first move.

“The onus is on the offending party to return, restart, and compensate for the damages as well as to reassure that they would not renege again,” Ambassador Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh said.

‘Increasing suspicions’

Vaez said the IAEA agreement “deferred a crisis that could have derailed diplomacy before it even had a chance of getting off the ground”.

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the time bought by the deal could open the way for all sides to negotiate – and implement – a road map back to JCPOA compliance.

She told Al Jazeera “it won’t be the end of the world but it won’t be good” if the nuclear deal signatories fail to come to an agreement in those three months.

“Iran will continue to take steps out of the JCPOA and to reduce cooperation with the IAEA, increasing suspicions that it is working on weapons,” Slavin said of the ramifications of a no-deal scenario.

“Iranians will continue to suffer from the impact of sanctions. Iranian politicians opposed to the deal and to any relaxation of tensions with the West will get stronger, and Iran will likely also be more difficult to deal with in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, et cetera.”

Presidential elections loom

The fact that the June presidential elections in Iran are fast approaching only adds to the pressure to find a solution to the nuclear deal dilemma.

President Hassan Rouhani, who won his office by promising to engage with the West and improve Iran’s economy by ending isolation, is nearing the end of his second term.

It is widely believed a conservative or a hardliner – who could come from a military background – will emerge victorious in the elections.

Iran’s last large-scale elections came in February 2020 when the lowest voter turnout in the f40-year history of the country gave way to the current hardline parliament whose December law obliged Rouhani’s administration to boost uranium enrichment and restrict IAEA inspections.

“It is obviously much easier to negotiate a return to the nuclear deal with individuals who negotiated it in the first place than to work with a new cast of characters – or old ones from the Ahmadinejad days – who are much more antagonistic to the United States,” Slavin said in reference to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vaez concurred saying: “It will be a risky gambit for Washington not to restore the JCPOA fully before its key proponents in Iran leave power.”

But he added it would be unlikely for the next Iranian president to undo what has been state policy as the supreme leader is always the ultimate decision-maker.

Meantime, however, Rouhani’s opponents are likely to mount more opposition to his dealings with international stakeholders.

On Monday, angry legislators said Iran’s agreement with the IAEA is “illegal” and called for the president to be handed over to the judiciary for legal punishment.

The heated confrontation even prompted the supreme leader to intervene, saying they must resolve their differences so a single voice would be communicated from Iran to the world.



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