Sweden says it could host Yemen's warring sides for talks

JAN M. OLSEN

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Sweden on Wednesday offered to host talks between Yemen's warring parties as Washington called for an urgent halt to hostilities and the U.N. special envoy ramped up efforts to revive discussions that failed nearly two months ago.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the United Nations has asked her country if it "could be a place for the U.N. envoy to gather the parties in this conflict" — the internationally recognized government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, and Yemen's Iran-backed Shiite rebels known as Houthis.

Wallstrom told Swedish news agency TT that her country would be "happy about it," but that nothing is definite.

The possible venue comes as U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths called on the opposing sides in the 3 1/2-year conflict to heed "recent calls" for a quick resumption of the political process and efforts to win a halt to fighting in Yemen.

The Trump administration late Tuesday called for an urgent halt to the war and a start to negotiations aimed at a political settlement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked all parties to support Griffiths in what Pompeo said must be "substantive consultations" in November in a third country.

In separate remarks, also Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called for a cease-fire within 30 days.

Nigel Tricks of the Norwegian Refugee Council welcomed the cease-fire call, saying it could be "the political breakthrough that we have long requested from parties to this brutal war" that has been "four years of hell for Yemeni women, men and children."

Griffiths urged the concerned parties to "seize this opportunity" and singled out support for "confidence-building measures" such as Yemen's central bank, a prisoner exchange and the re-opening of the airport in the rebel-held Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

"Dialogue remains the only path to reach an inclusive agreement," Griffiths said in a statement.

Wallstrom reiterated Sweden's support for Griffiths, whose efforts to host talks between the government and rebels in Geneva in September ran aground when Houthi representatives didn't show up, insisting they had not been guaranteed safe return after the discussions.

The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis who toppled the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

The war has killed over 10,000 people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine. The U.N. says Yemen is facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

At the beginning of 2017, the U.N. and its partners provided aid to 3 million hungry Yemenis. Since then, assistance has been scaled up, reaching 8 million people last month because of generous funding from donors, but far below the 14 million people — or half Yemen's population — who may need it.

Earlier this month, Mark Lowcock, the U.N. humanitarian chief, warned of "an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen."

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Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed from Geneva.