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U.N.-Led Yemen Peace Talks Are Set For June 14


The Saudi military said today they shot down a scud missile that Houthi rebels in Yemen fired at the kingdom. Saudi Arabia first launched an air campaign in Yemen at the end of March that was after Houthi rebels, who the Saudis say are Iranian proxies ousted Yemen's government. Some 2,000 people have been killed; more than a million displaced in recent fighting in Yemen. Despite ongoing conflict, efforts towards peace continue. Now the U.N. is trying to get the warring sides in Yemen to the negotiating table in Geneva next weekend but it hasn't been easy. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric likens this diplomatic push to herding cats.

STEPHANE DUJARRIC: Talks about talks are complex. It is clear that from our end we want people to come to Geneva without any preconditions. I think we're getting there.

KELEMEN: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson has also been pushing for this, holding meetings recently in Oman with representatives of the Houthi rebels and traveling to Saudi Arabia to encourage a U.N. peace process. A former ambassador to Yemen, Stephen Seche says he's hoping the Saudis have come to realize the diminishing returns on its air campaign.

STEPHEN SECHE: They don't know - and I don't think anyone knows - how much longer you can continue to pummel Yemen from the air and expect to achieve the goals you've set for yourselves.

KELEMEN: The Saudis have been unable to restore the ousted president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, or get the Houthis to leave territory that they seized. Seche, who's now with the Arab Gulf States Institute, a think tank in Washington, says the only way out of this is to get everyone around the table. But he adds the U.N. has to make sure that the Houthis get a fair hearing and that another former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who he says egged on the Houthis, isn't allowed to be a spoiler.

SECHE: There's an ability within Yemen, a culture of tribal mediation, of conflict mediation, on the part of elders and others. So there's a sense that Yemenis can work out their problems. And I've always argued that if they were left to their own devices they probably could cobble together something that wouldn't look like necessarily a success from a Western perspective, but in the Yemeni context, it would allow them to get back to living together and figuring out a way to, in the long term, to resolve their differences.

KELEMEN: So the former ambassador thinks U.N. mediators may have better chances in Yemen than they've had in Syria or Libya. Though the U.N. says there should be no preconditions to the talks, U.N. and U.S. officials are urging Saudi Arabia to agree to another humanitarian pause in its air campaign to allow aid workers to reach millions of people in need of assistance. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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