Trump says he will likely release Mideast peace plan after Israel elections

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag and a cane during a protest against the Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the village of Sur Baher which sits on either side of the Israeli barrier in East Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would likely wait until after Israel’s Sept. 17 elections to release a peace plan for the region that was designed by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is the main architect of a proposed $50 billion economic development plan for the Palestinians, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon that is designed to create peace in the region.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

U.S. peace plan conference is blip on Israel’s radar as political, Iran crises swirl

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A U.S.-led conference in Bahrain designed to drum up investment in the Palestinian economy and pave a path to peace with Israel has gone largely unremarked by Israelis preoccupied with a political crisis and their arch-foe Iran.

Palestinians, who view the Trump administration as biased towards Israel, boycotted this week’s meeting in Manama.

It was also held without an official Israeli delegation.

Organizers said privately this was due to worry about a further dent to the event’s credibility after an election in Israel in April election failed to produced a new coalition government.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits with his ministers and former Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the plenum at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits with his ministers and former Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the plenum at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing proliferating challengers in a new election due in September, and beset by corruption scandals, the hazier-than-ever peacemaking horizon with the Palestinians drew scant discussion in Israeli media.

Economy Minister Eli Cohen went as far as to suggest that Bahrain may have closed the door on further diplomacy.

“We saw that, even in an economic conference where the Palestinians were meant to come and get money, to come and get tools and inducements, to come and develop their economy, they did not come,” he told Israel’s Reshet 13 TV.

“We see, really, that they do not want a peace accord. They simply don’t want us here…Again, the Palestinians’ true face has been exposed.”

The Palestinians, who have shunned the United States since it recognized disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017, suspected the conference sought to lure them into surrendering their statehood goal in return for global financial relief.

It is not clear whether a peace plan promised by the Trump administration will call for a “two-state solution” sought by the Palestinian Authority and backed internationally, which involves creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Netanyahu voiced conditional acceptance in 2009 of a future demilitarized Palestinian state. He has since said its creation would not happen on his watch and that he plans to annex some Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, communities many countries view as illegal.

Stalled since 2014, peacemaking has been on a backburner for some Israelis, while others feel a need to work for coexistence.

FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS

“This is a matter that’s important to me. We need an end to this situation,” said Jerusalem chef Israel Bachar, 45.

“It’s a little odd that the Americans held this (Bahrain) conference without convening the two main parties involved. I don’t think it’s helpful to try to impose things from outside.”

Netanyahu described the Bahrain gathering as part of a U.S. effort “to bring about a better future and solve the region’s problems”.

Two days before it opened, he toured the strategic Jordan Valley, the eastern-most part of the West Bank that borders Jordan, with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and said Israel must retain a presence there in any peace deal.

Israeli journalists were at Bahrain, a rarity for a Gulf state that does not formally recognize Israel. The resulting coverage focused as much on wider Israeli-Arab contacts and Bahrain’s tiny Jewish community as on the Palestinian no-shows.

Cohen, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said Arab delegates saw Bahrain as a chance to close ranks with Israel on bilateral commerce and in the face of a common adversary.

“This was, in fact, a regional summit against Iran,” he said. “We see here a coalition in the Middle East…They (Arab powers) understand that their security threat is Iran.”

Washington and Tehran have exchanged threats and heated rhetoric in recent weeks, with a U.S. increasing sanctions on Iran and Iranian forces shooting down a U.S. drone in the Gulf.

The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University gave a cautious welcome to the initiatives announced in Manama, including a global investment fund for the Palestinians. But it said these could not trump statecraft.

“While a willingness to earmark huge investments in economy, infrastructure, education, health, and welfare in the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be good news…what is also required is a political plan that is both creative and beneficial to the Palestinians,” INSS scholars Tomer Fadlon and Sason Hadad wrote.

Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war. It pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005 and Hamas Islamists, who have called for Israel’s destruction, now rule the enclave. Palestinians seek both territories for a future state.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)

Trump lands in Vietnam for second summit with North Korea’s Kim

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Noi Bai Airport for the US-DPRK summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Kham/Po

By Jeff Mason and Khanh Vu

HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday for their second summit in less than a year, at which the U.S. side will urge tangible steps by North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Trump flew into Hanoi on Air Force One, touching down just before 9 p.m. (1400 GMT).

“Just arrived in Vietnam,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “Thank you to all of the people for the great reception in Hanoi. Tremendous crowds, and so much love!”

Kim arrived by train early in the day after a three-day, 3,000-km (1,850-mile) journey from his capital, Pyongyang, through China. He completed the last stretch from a border station to Hanoi by car.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) waves upon his arrival at the border town with China in Dong Dang, Vietnam, February 26, 2019. Nhan Sang/VNA via REUTERS

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (C) waves upon his arrival at the border town with China in Dong Dang, Vietnam, February 26, 2019. Nhan Sang/VNA via REUTERS

The two leaders, who seemed to strike up a surprisingly warm relationship at their first summit in Singapore last June, will meet for a brief one-on-one conversation on Wednesday evening, followed by a dinner, at which they will each be accompanied by two guests and interpreters, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.

They will meet again on Thursday, she said.

Their talks come eight months after the historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

While much of that first meeting was about breaking the ice after decades of bitter animosity between their two countries, this time there will be pressure to move beyond a vaguely worded commitment by Kim to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump’s critics at home have warned him against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, urging specific, verifiable North Korean action to abandon the nuclear weapons that threaten the United States.

In return, Kim would expect significant U.S. concessions such as relief from punishing sanctions and a declaration that the 1950-53 Korean War is at last formally over.

Trump, landing in darkness, waved as he disembarked Air Force One and was met by senior Vietnamese and U.S. officials. His motorcade passed crowds waving the flags of Vietnam, the United States and North Korea on its way to the JW Marriott Hotel, his accommodation for the two-day summit.

Earlier, Vietnamese officials greeted Kim at the station in Dong Dang town after he crossed the border from China by train. He got a red-carpet welcome with honor guard, military band and fluttering North Korean and Vietnamese flags.

Kim was accompanied by his sister, Kim Yo Jong, an important aide.

About a dozen bodyguards briefly ran alongside his limousine as he began the two-hour journey to Hanoi, smiling and waving to children lining the route.

Roads were closed with security forces in armored personnel carriers guarding the route to Hanoi’s Melia hotel where Kim is staying.

Vietnamese authorities have yet to announce where Kim and Trump will meet.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also arrived on Tuesday and met Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh for talks.

‘TREMENDOUS’

Trump said before leaving Washington it would be “a very tremendous summit” and stressed the benefits to North Korea if it gave up its nuclear weapons.

“With complete Denuclearization, North Korea will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse. Without it, just more of the same. Chairman Kim will make a wise decision!” he said.

In a speech on Sunday, however, Trump appeared to play down the possibility of a major breakthrough, saying he would be happy as long as North Korea maintained its pause on weapons testing.

“I’m not in a rush,” he said. “I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy.”

North Korea has not conducted a nuclear or missile test since 2017, but analysts say the two leaders have to move beyond summit symbolism.

“The most basic yet urgent task is to come to a shared understanding of what denuclearization would entail,” said Gi-Wook Shin, director of Stanford’s Asia-Pacific Research Center.

“The ambiguity and obscurity of the term ‘denuclearization’ only exacerbates the skepticism about both the U.S. and North Korean commitments to denuclearization.”

While the United States is demanding North Korea give up all of its nuclear and missile programs, North Korea wants to see the removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella for South Korea.

Trump’s departure from Washington comes at a time of increased pressure at home, and he is keen to show progress on a foreign policy issue that has confounded multiple predecessors.

Some analysts fear this may lead him to pull his punches.

“The main concern is whether the president, besieged by domestic distractions, will give away too much, and take a bad deal that leaves the United States less secure,” said Victor Cha, a former White House official who took part in past North Korea negotiations under previous Republican administrations.

While Trump is in Hanoi, his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is testifying before U.S. congressional committees, with the president’s business practices the main focus.

Anticipation has also been rising about the impending release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, although a senior U.S. Justice Department official said on Friday it would not come this week.

A South Korean presidential spokesman told reporters in Seoul the two sides might be able to agree to a formal end of the Korean War, which was concluded with an armistice not a peace treaty, a move North Korea has long sought.

Protesters in Seoul tore up photographs of Kim and threw them to the ground to highlight their dismay that North Korea’s grim human rights record was not expected to figure in talks.

Amnesty International said Trump had disregarded human rights to gain favor with Kim.

“His silence in the face of relentless and grave human rights violations has been deafening,” it said.

(For live coverage of the summit, click: ); Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, https://www.reuters.com/live/north-koreaMai Nguyen, Hyonhee Shin, Josh Smith and Ebrahim Harris in HANOI, Joyce Lee in SEOUL; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)

North Korea warns U.S. skeptics as Kim heads for summit with Trump

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a train as he departs for a summit in Hanoi, in Pyongyang, North Korea in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 23, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

By Jack Kim and Josh Smith

HANOI (Reuters) – North Korea warned President Donald Trump on Sunday not to listen to U.S. critics who were disrupting efforts to improve ties, as its leader, Kim Jong Un, made his way across China by train to a second summit with Trump in Vietnam.

The two leaders will meet in Hanoi on Wednesday and Thursday, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, where they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

But their vaguely worded agreement has produced few results and U.S. Democratic senators and U.S. security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The North’s KCNA state news agency said such opposition was aimed at derailing the talks.

“If the present U.S. administration reads others’ faces, lending an ear to others, it may face the shattered dream of the improvement of the relations with the DPRK and world peace and miss the rare historic opportunity,” the news agency said in a commentary, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Trump administration has pressed the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, which, combined with its missile capabilities, pose a threat to the United States, before it can expect any concessions.

But in recent days Trump has signaled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove sanctions if there is meaningful progress on denuclearization.

Trump also said he was in no rush and had no pressing schedule for North Korea’s denuclearization, hinting at a more gradual, reciprocal approach, long favored by Pyongyang.

The North also wants security guarantees and a formal end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Trump said on Sunday that he and Kim expect to make further progress at this week’s summit and again held out the promise that denuclearization would help North Korea develop its economy.

He also said Chinese President Xi Jinping has been supportive of Trump’s meeting with Kim. “The last thing China wants are large scale nuclear weapons right next door.”

TRUMP SCOFFS AT CRITICS

Trump scoffed at critics of his handling of North Korea.

“So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea. But thanks anyway!” he said in a tweet.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday” that North Korea has yet to take “concrete” steps on denuclearization and said another summit might be needed beyond the one in Hanoi, but that he hoped for substantial progress this week.

“The alternative to giving up his nuclear weapons is remaining a pariah state, remaining a nation that is unable to trade, unable to grow, unable to take care of its own people,” Pompeo said of Kim in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In a letter to Trump last week, three Democratic chairmen of key committees in the House of Representatives accused the administration of withholding information on the negotiations with North Korea.

“There are ample reasons to be skeptical that Chairman Kim is committed to a nuclear-free North Korea,” the lawmakers wrote.

U.S. intelligence officials recently testified to Congress that North Korea was unlikely to ever give up its entire nuclear arsenal.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Pompeo has conceded in private discussions with Korea experts that he would be lucky if North Korea agreed to dismantle 60 percent of what the United States has demanded, although he added that it would still be more than any other administration had achieved.

The State Department declined to comment on the report.

KCNA, referring to U.S. fears of the North’s weapons, said if this week’s talks ended without results, “the U.S. people will never be cleared of the security threats that threw them into panic”.

Few details of Kim’s trip to Vietnam were announced until early on Sunday, when North Korean state media confirmed he had left Pyongyang by train, accompanied by senior officials as well as his influential sister, Kim Yo Jong.

RED CARPET SEND-OFF

In rare, revealing coverage of Kim’s travel, the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper featured photographs of the leader getting a red-carpet send-off on Saturday afternoon and waving from a train door while holding a cigarette.

He was joined by top officials also involved in the Singapore summit, including Kim Yong Chol, former spy chief and Kim’s top envoy in negotiations with the United States, as well as senior party aide Ri Su Yong, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and defense chief No Kwang Chol.

Other senior officials, such as his de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, and Kim Hyok Chol, negotiations counterpart to U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun, were already in Hanoi to prepare for the summit.

Both sides are under pressure to forge more specific agreements than were reached in Singapore.

The two leaders are likely to try to build on their personal connection to push things forward in Hanoi, even if only incrementally, analysts said.

“They will not make an agreement which breaks up the current flow of diplomacy. (President Trump) has mentioned that they’ll meet again; even if there is a low-level agreement, they will seek to keep things moving,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Few details of summit arrangements have been released.

Some lamp posts on Hanoi’s tree-lined streets are decked with North Korean, U.S. and Vietnamese flags fluttering above a handshake design, and security has been stepped up at locations that could be the summit venue, or where the leaders might stay.

It could take Kim at least 2-1/2 days to travel to Vietnam by train.

(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee, Ju-min Park, Soyoung Kim, Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, and Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jeffrey Benkoe)

North Korea says it wants peace, relations with U.S.

Directional signs bearing North Korean and U.S. flags are seen near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korea said on Tuesday that relations with the United States will develop “wonderfully at a fast pace” if Washington responds to its efforts on denuclearization with trustworthy measures and practical actions.

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Han Tae Song, told the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament that Pyongyang would continue working to establish a “permanent and durable peace mechanism on the Korean peninsula”.

The landmark summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump last June produced a promise to work toward the complete denuclearization of the divided peninsula. Progress since then has been patchy.

Washington is demanding concrete action, such as a full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities, before agreeing to key goals of Pyongyang – easing international sanctions and declaring an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice.

The summit had brought about a dramatic turn in relations that had been “the most hostile on earth” and contributed to ensuring peace and security on the peninsula, Han said..

He referred to the two leaders’ joint statement issued after their meeting in Singapore and Kim’s New Year’s Address, adding:

“Accordingly we declared that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them and we have taken various practical measures.

“If the U.S. responds to our efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions, bilateral relations will develop wonderfully at a fast pace through the process of taking more definite and epoch-making steps,” he said.

Han told Reuters that he had no information on a possible second summit between Kim and Trump, which the White House has said would be held in late February without saying where.

“As we open a new year, we are determined to seize this hard-won unprecedented window of opportunity of diplomacy,” South Korea’s deputy ambassador Lee Jang-Keun told the Geneva forum on Tuesday.

“The recent announcement by the U.S. of holding a second U.S.-DPRK summit meeting in late February is another harbinger of hope,” he said.

South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha told Reuters at Davos last week that North Korea must make concrete pledges toward curbing its nuclear weapons program, such as dismantling its main nuclear complex and allowing international inspections to confirm the process, when leader Kim meets Trump as soon as next month.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Angus MacSwan)

Russia, Iran and Turkey agree on Syria constitutional body, call for talks

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on forming a constitutional committee in Syria at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) – The foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey said on Tuesday that a new Syrian Constitutional Committee should convene early next year, kicking off a viable political peace process.

In a joint statement read out by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after the trio met U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, they said that the work of the new body “should be governed by a sense of compromise and constructive engagement”.

De Mistura stayed away from their press event and was to address reporters separately.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Explainer: Is Yemen finally on the road to peace?

FILE PHOTO: Boys walk amid ruins of houses during the conflict in the northwestern city of Saada, Yemen November 22, 2018. Picture taken November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma/File Photo

By Aziz El Yaakoubi and Mohammed Ghobari

DUBAI/ADEN (Reuters) – Weeks of U.N. shuttle diplomacy and Western pressure delivered a breakthrough in Yemen peace efforts when the warring parties last week agreed to cease fighting in a contested Red Sea port city and withdraw forces.

The challenge lies in securing an orderly troop withdrawal from Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing starvation, amid deep mistrust among the parties.

At the same time, the United Nations must prepare for critical discussions on a wider truce and a framework for political negotiations to end the conflict.

The nearly four-year-old war, which has killed tens of thousands of people, pits the Iran-aligned Houthi group against other Yemeni factions fighting alongside the Saudi-led coalition trying to restore the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Houthis, who ousted Hadi’s administration from the capital Sanaa in 2014, and their coalition foes are due to start implementing the Hodeidah ceasefire on Tuesday.

Coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are under pressure from Western allies including the United States and Britain, which supply arms and intelligence to the Sunni Muslim alliance, to end the war as Riyadh comes under scrutiny after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

People gather near stalls with used tools on a street in Hodeidah, Yemen December 15, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

People gather near stalls with used tools on a street in Hodeidah, Yemen December 15, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

WHY IS HODEIDAH SO IMPORTANT?

It is the main port used to feed Yemen’s 30 million people and has been the focus of fighting this year, raising global fears that a full-scale assault could cut off supply lines and lead to mass starvation. The war and the ensuing economic collapse has left 15.9 million people facing severe hunger.

The Houthis currently control the city. Coalition-backed Yemeni forces have massed on the outskirts in an offensive aimed at seizing the seaport. Their aim is to weaken the group by cutting off its main supply line.

The alliance bogged down in a military stalemate, also wants to secure the coast along the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers.

The coalition captured the southern port of Aden in 2015 and a string of ports on the western coast, but the Houthis control most towns and cities in Yemen, including Hodeidah and Sanaa.

Analysts say implementing the agreement is important, as any lapse in momentum could be used by the coalition as a justification to resume its offensive on Hodeidah.

WHERE DO THINGS STAND NOW?

Griffiths said when the deal was announced on Thursday that troop withdrawal from the port should begin “within days” and later from the city. International monitors would be deployed and all armed forces would pull back completely within 21 days.

The UAE has massed thousands of Yemeni forces — drawn from southern separatists, local units from the Red Sea coastal plain and a battalion led by a nephew of late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh — on the outskirts of Hodeidah.

A U.N.-chaired committee including both sides would oversee the withdrawal of forces. The United Nations has said it would play a leading role in the port, but the agreement did not spell out who would run the city.

In remarks illustrating the risks of a resumption of the bloodshed in Hodeidah, each side has said the city would ultimately fall under their control.

Griffiths has asked the U.N. Security Council to urgently pass a resolution backing deployment of a robust monitoring regime, headed by retired Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert.

The envoy is also working on securing other confidence-building steps hanging over from the peace talks, including reopening Sanaa airport and supporting the central bank.

WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP TO PEACE?

A second round of talks is due to be held in January on a framework for negotiations and transitional governing body.

The Houthis, who have no traction in the south, want a meaningful role in Yemen’s government and to rebuild their stronghold of Saada in the north of the country, analysts said.

The analysts say Saudi Arabia can live with a Houthi political role as long as they disarm. Riyadh says it does not want a military movement like Lebanon’s Iran-allied Hezbollah near its borders.

“Moving forward, the inclusion of key factions that have so far been excluded from the process will be key,” said Adam Baron of the European Council for Foreign Relations.

Yemen’s fractious armed groups and parties, numerous before the war, have proliferated further since 2015, and each has their own agenda. The war also revived old strains between North and South Yemen, formerly separate countries which united into a single state in 1990 under slain former president Saleh.

Southern separatists resented concentration of resources in the north. Some of the Shi’ite Zaydi sect chafed as their north heartland became impoverished and in the late 1990s formed the Houthi group, which fought the army and forged ties with Iran. Jihadists set up an al Qaeda wing.

Mass pro-democracy protests in 2011 forced Saleh to step down after some of his former allies turned on him and the army split. His deputy Hadi was elected to a two-year term to oversee a democratic transition but was undermined.

In 2014, the Houthis seized Sanaa aided by Saleh loyalists, forcing Hadi to share power. When a federal constitution was proposed, both Houthis and southern separatists rejected it.

The Houthis arrested Hadi in 2015, but he escaped and fled to Aden. The coalition then entered the war on Hadi’s side.

(Additional reporting and writing by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean)

Yemeni Houthis halt missile attacks on Saudi coalition, raising peace prospects

FILE PHOTO: A Houthi militant sits guard on the roof of a building overlooking fellow Houthis rallying to denounce the rapid devaluation of the Yemeni Rial in Sanaa, Yemen October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Houthi rebels in Yemen said on Monday they were halting drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their Yemeni allies, responding to a demand from the United Nations.

The Iranian-aligned group, which has been battling the Saudi-backed government for nearly four years, also said it was ready for a broader ceasefire if the Saudi-led coalition “wants peace”.

The Houthis’ decision to halt missile attacks could be a turning point in peace efforts as it ends a direct threat to Saudi Arabia. It is by far the biggest concession from the movement since it left the southern port city of Aden in 2015.

International pressure has mounted on Yemen’s warring parties to end the war that has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the country to the verge of starvation.

The move from the Houthi group came after the coalition ordered a halt in its offensive against Yemen’s main port city Hodeidah, which has become the focus of the war.

“We announce our initiative…to halt missile and drone strikes on the countries of aggression,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said in a statement.

The decision was based on discussions with U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths to show “good faith” and support peace efforts, he said.

Griffiths welcomed the Houthi announcement and called on all parties continue to show restraint “to create a conducive environment for convening the consultations”.

The envoy is trying to salvage peace talks after a round in September collapsed when the Houthis did not show up. He hopes to convene talks before the end of the year in Sweden to agree on a framework for peace under a transitional government.

Yemen’s parties have given “firm assurances” they are committed to attending peace talks, Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council on Friday, with Britain asking the council to back a humanitarian truce in Yemen on Monday.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Monday reiterated the kingdom’s support for U.N. efforts to end the war. The Riyadh-backed government also announced its willingness to take part in the next round of consultations.

TIRED OF WAR

Yemenis cautiously welcomed the announcement on Monday.

“We pray that this will be the real beginning of peace in Yemen, we are all tired of this war,” said Mona Ibrahim, a teacher in the capital Sanaa, which has been under Houthi control since September 2014.

“We just want to live like other humans,” Mohammed al-Ahdal, a resident of Hodeidah said.

The Houthi defense ministry said it would respond to any hostilities from the coalition.

Graham Griffiths, a senior analyst at Control Risks Middle East, said the announcement was potentially important as it comes in response to the coalition’s pausing of operations around Hodeidah.

“Efforts to resume the peace process remain fragile … given the mutual distrust between the warring parties. Nevertheless, given the renewed pressure from the international community, there is a real chance to begin to move the conflict toward a durable de-escalation,” he said.

Houthi-run Al Masirah TV reported on Monday that Houthi forces fired a ballistic missile on Saudi-backed forces in the desert of Midi, bordering Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis say their missile attacks on Saudi Arabia are in retaliation for air raids on Yemen by the Western-backed coalition, which entered Yemen’s war in 2015 to try to restore the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The coalition has carried out thousands of air strikes in the impoverished country that have hit schools, markets and hospitals, killing hundreds of people – though it says it does not target civilians.

Western allies including the United States have called for a ceasefire ahead of the renewed U.N. efforts.

Western countries have provided arms and intelligence to the Arab states in the alliance, but have shown increasing reservations about the conflict since the murder of U.S.-based Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden, Hesham Hajali in Cairo and Asma Alsharif in Dubai; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

North Korea military parade features floats and flowers, not missiles

People carry flags in front of statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il during a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of North Korea's foundation in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

By Josh Smith

PYONGYANG (Reuters) – With no long-range missiles on display, North Korea staged a military parade on Sunday focused on conventional arms, peace and economic development as it marked the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding.

The reduced display compared to past years earned a thank you note from U.S. President Donald Trump, who hailed it as a “big and very positive statement from North Korea.”

Trump on Twitter quoted a Fox News description of the event without long-range nuclear missiles as a sign of North Korea’s “commitment to denuclearize.”

“Thank you To Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other! Much better than before I took office,” Trump tweeted.

In Pyongyang, line upon line of goose-stepping soldiers and columns of tanks shook the ground before giving way to chanting crowds waving flags and flowers as they passed a review stand where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sat with a special envoy from China, as well as other visiting foreigners.

Kim told the envoy, Chinese parliament chief Li Zhanshu, that North Korea was focusing on economic development and hopes to learn from China’s experience in this regard, Chinese state television reported.

Attendees during the 70th anniversary of North Korea's foundation, in this undated photo released on September 9, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS

Attendees during the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s foundation, in this undated photo released on September 9, 2018 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS

“North Korea upholds the consensus of the Singapore meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States and has taken steps for it and hopes the United States takes corresponding steps, to jointly promote the political resolution process for the peninsula issue,” the report paraphrased Kim as saying.

The parade highlight themes of military accomplishment, national development, and international engagement at a time when doubts are arising over Kim’s commitment to abandoning nuclear weapons.

Unlike in previous years, there were no inter-continental missiles on display. And there were no nuclear tests to mark the holiday, as has happened in each of the last two years.

North Korea routinely uses major holidays to showcase its military capabilities and the latest developments in missile technology.

But that has lessened this year, underlining Kim’s stated aim for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula and his recent meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and summits with Trump in Singapore and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing and Dalian.

The theme for the celebrations this year was economic development and unifying the Korean peninsula, divided since World War Two.

A huge float was decorated with a modern train, solar panels, wind power plants and dams, under a slogan of “All our might to build economy!”, as North Korean men in construction work wear marched.

Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s titular head of state, gave a speech at the parade in which he said the country had achieved status as a military power, and would now pursue efforts to strengthen its economy.

Floats on unification also passed by a throng of North Koreans waving unified Korea flags.

“All Koreans should join forces to accomplish unification in our generation. Unification is the only way Koreans can survive,” said an editorial in North Korea’s party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

Kim Jong Un and his South Korean counterpart Moon will meet in Pyongyang on Sept. 18-20 for the third time this year and discuss “practical measures” toward denuclearization, officials in Seoul have said.

KIM’S LETTER

Despite stalled progress on talks with Washington, the North Korean leader wants to denuclearize the peninsula within Trump’s first term, according to South Korean officials.

Trump said on Friday that Kim has sent a letter to him, which he believes will be positive.

Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the military component of the parade appeared to be scaled down this year.

“I am very curious to hear what is in the letter to Trump, because this parade could have been more provocative,” Hanham said, adding satellite evidence showed North Korea continued missile-related activities such as testing solid fuel motors.

Kim was seen laughing and holding hands up with China’s Li as he oversaw the festivities at Pyongyang’s main Kim Il Sung square on a clear autumn day. Kim waved to the crowd before leaving but did not make any public remarks.

North Korea has invited a large group of foreign journalists to cover a military parade and other events to mark the 70th anniversary of its founding.

That includes iconic mass games that Pyongyang is organizing for the first time in five years, a huge, nationalist pageant performed by up to 100,000 people in one of the world’s largest stadiums.

Both the Mass Games and the military parade have been criticized by human rights advocates and North Korean defectors for the pressure placed on performers and for painting a distorted picture of the country through stage-managed displays.

But thousands of jovial North Koreans clapped in unison and rallied support for their leader Kim.

A concert on Saturday night attended by Kim Yong Nam and foreign delegations featured little in the way of martial messaging or images, with only a few shadowy American bombers shown briefly in footage of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Pei Li and Ben Blanchard in Beijing and David Lawder in Washington; writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Lisa Shumaker)

Hamas fires rockets, Israel bombs Gaza amid talk of truce

A Palestinian man inspects a Hamas site that was hit in an Israeli air strike, in Al-Mughraqa on the outskirts of Gaza City August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Eli Berlzon

GAZA/SDEROT, Israel (Reuters) – A Palestinian official said on Thursday armed factions in Gaza were prepared to halt a round of rocket attacks on southern Israel if the Israeli military stopped its strikes after two days of cross-border violence.

An explosion is seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

An explosion is seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

A pregnant Palestinian woman and her 18-month-old child, and a militant from the Islamist Hamas group that rules Gaza, were killed in the Israeli attacks, and at least five civilians were wounded, local medical officials said.

The Israeli military said seven people were wounded in southern Israel. One was identified by her employer as a Thai agricultural worker.

The flare-up came after officials on both sides had talked about potential progress in an effort by the United Nations and Egypt to broker a truce to end months of violence and alleviate deepening humanitarian and economic hardship in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli firefighters survey the scene where a rocket exploded in the southern city of Sderot, Israel August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli firefighters survey the scene where a rocket exploded in the southern city of Sderot, Israel August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, raised the prospect of an imminent end to the current fighting.

“Factions of the resistance consider this round of escalation over as far as we are concerned, and the continuation of calm depends on the behavior of the occupation,” the official said, using militant factions’ term for Israel.

The Israeli military declined to comment on the official’s remarks.

The official, at a command center used by armed groups in Gaza, said they had been “responding to crimes” by Israel – a reference to the killing on Tuesday, in disputed circumstances, of two Hamas gunmen.

FAMILIAR PATTERN

The latest fighting has stayed within familiar parameters. The rocket fire from Gaza has not targeted Israel’s heartland and the Israeli military said its air strikes were limited to Hamas installations.

Yuval Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, told Israel Radio before the Palestinian officials comments that Israel was “not eager for war” but would make no concessions to Hamas.

An Israeli policeman walks next to the scene where a rocket exploded in the southern city of Sderot, Israel August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Netanyahu was due to hold a security cabinet meeting later in the day after consultations with security officials.

Rocket warning sirens sounded almost non-stop in the southern Israeli town of Sderot and other border communities from sunset on Wednesday. Many residents have a reinforced room in their homes where they can shelter. The military said more than 180 rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza.

Ambulance sirens echoed through the night in Gaza, where families huddled at home as powerful explosions shook buildings. The Israeli military said its aircraft struck more than 150 facilities belonging to Hamas.

U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said in an overnight statement: “I am deeply alarmed by the recent escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel, and particularly by today’s multiple rockets fired towards communities in southern Israel.”

The United Nations, he said, has engaged with Egypt in an “unprecedented effort” to avoid serious conflict, but cautioned that “the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people”.

Gaza has been controlled by Hamas for more than a decade, during which time it has fought three wars against Israel, the latest in 2014.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Ari Rabinovitch and Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Robin Pomeroy, Richard Balmforth)