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Yemen Talks in Geneva End Without Deal

The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed gestures during a press conference after the peace talks on Yemen, on June 19, 2015 at the UN offices at Geneva.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen said Friday that a first round of proximity talks between Yemeni parties has ended without agreement on a cease-fire, but that he is optimistic one can be achieved in the coming days.

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations in Geneva, special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said he believes that with some further consultations, it is possible to agree on an urgently needed halt in the fighting, accompanied by some military withdrawals from Yemen’s battered cities.

“There is, in principle, no disagreement on this basic element," he said. "We feel that it requires simply some further consultation, and that we can achieve it pretty soon.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called at the start of the talks for a 15-day humanitarian pause as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan gets under way to get aid to millions of desperate Yemenis battered by nearly three months of war. Ould Cheikh Ahmed said he hopes to have the pause in place before the next round of talks.

“For us, actually, the achievement of a humanitarian pause or a cease-fire should be by itself part of the confidence-building for any future talks. So that will be our top priority," he said. "I will intensify my efforts to make sure we can achieve that. Definitely, in my view, it should not wait for a future round of talks.”

Two delegations, one representing Yemen’s internationally-recognized government and another comprised of members of the opposition Houthis, convened in Geneva this week. The two parties never met face to face. Instead, the U.N. envoy shuttled between the delegations trying to find common ground with the aim of re-launching that country’s political dialogue.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed said he did not expect to overcome all obstacles in a single meeting, but that he would now return to shuttle diplomacy to try to close the gap in the two parties’ positions. He will also travel to New York to brief the Security Council.

The United Nations has sought to limit expectations about these talks from the beginning, saying they are not an international conference but a consultative process, aimed at bringing the Yemenis together with U.N. facilitation.

Since a Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthis began in late March at the request of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi’s government, more than 2,600 people have been killed.

The United Nations warned that 80 percent of the population needs humanitarian assistance and has asked for $1.6 billion for Yemen this year to meet urgent humanitarian needs.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded the Houthis cease their land grab of Yemeni cities and withdraw their forces from government institutions. In April, the Council imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis and sanctioned one of their leaders.