Expectations low as Yemen’s warring parties meet for talks in Sweden

CAIRO (AP) — Yemen’s warring parties will meet in Sweden this week for another attempt at talks aimed at halting their catastrophic 3-year-old war, but there are few incentives for major compromises, and the focus is likely to be on firming up a shaky de-escalation.

U.N. officials say they don’t expect rapid progress toward a political settlement but hope for at least minor steps that would help to address Yemen’s worsening humanitarian crisis.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce said “it’s very good news” that all the parties have come to Stockholm “but the hard work begins now and we hope the parties will engage in good faith with the United Nations.”

Both the internationally-recognized government, which is backed by a U.S.-sponsored and Saudi-led coalition, and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels say they are striving for peace. A Houthi delegation arrived in Stockholm late Tuesday, accompanied by U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths. The government delegation and the head of the rebel delegation were heading to Sweden on Wednesday.

Confidence-building measures before the talks included a prisoner swap and the evacuation of wounded rebels for medical treatment. The release of funds from abroad by Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to pay state employees in rebel-held territory is also in the works.

Yemeni scholar Hisham Al-Omeisy, who has written extensively about the conflict, said the talks would focus on “de-escalation and starting the political process.”

“It’s not much, but given the humanitarian situation and toxic political atmosphere currently prevalent in Yemen, it’s better than nothing.”

The conflict began with the Houthi takeover of the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen in 2014. The Saudi-led coalition went to war with the rebels the following March.

The war has claimed at least 10,000 lives, with experts estimating a much higher toll. Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, and the Houthis have fired long-range missiles into Saudi Arabia and targeted vessels in the Red Sea.

The fighting in Yemen has generated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The executive director of the U.N.’s World Food Program, David Beasley, said Tuesday that 12 million people suffer from “severe hunger.”

“I’ve heard many say that this is a country on the brink of catastrophe,” Beasley said. “This is not a country on the brink of a catastrophe. This is a country that is in a catastrophe.”

The mounting humanitarian needs, and outrage over the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, have galvanized international support for ending the war. The United States has called for a cease-fire and reduced some of its logistical aid for the coalition. Iran has also signaled support, urging all sides “to have constructive and responsible participation in the talks.”

But previous peace efforts have failed, with neither side willing to compromise.

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