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UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations is close to creating conditions for the start of peace talks in Sweden between Yemen's warring parties December but there is no agreement yet, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday.
The U.N. chief told reporters this is "a very crucial moment in relation to Yemen."
U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy, talking to Yemen's internationally recognized government backed by a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi Shiite rebels who control the capital Sanaa, Guterres said.
The current diplomatic initiative is being driven by the increasing threat of famine in Yemen, but also by international outrage over the murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Oct. 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul which has put a spotlight on Saudi Arabia's role in the country's war.
Griffiths announced on Nov. 16 that the warring parties had agreed to attend talks. He initially tried to bring the government and Houthis together in early September, but the Houthis didn't show up in Geneva, saying they didn't have guarantees for their safe return.
Guterres said Wednesday: "I believe there is a chance to be able to start effective negotiations in Sweden early in December, but we are not yet there."
He said starting talks "would be an extremely important objective," and stressed, "If we are able to stop the Yemeni war, we will be stopping the most tragic humanitarian disaster we are facing in today's world."
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital of Sanaa by the Iranian-backed Houthis, which toppled the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
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. Tens of thousands of people are believed to have been killed in the war and U.N. food agency chief David Beasley said last week that as many as 12 million of the 28 million Yemenis "are just one step away from famine."
Guterres is heading to the summit of the Group of 20 economic powers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Friday and Saturday and he told reporters he is ready to discuss peace talks to end the Yemen conflict with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and any other Saudi officials attending the meeting.
Guterres has called for an independent and transparent investigation into Khashoggi's murder and when asked whether he would also raise that issue with the crown prince, he said: "I have never a problem in saying publicly and privately the same thing."
Meanwhile, members of the U.N. Security Council are still holding consultations on a draft resolution urging Yemen's warring parties to relaunch negotiations to end the conflict and take urgent steps to tackle the humanitarian crisis — including by agreeing to a cease-fire around the key port of Hodeida, which is vital to delivering aid and commercial goods.
No vote has been scheduled and council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks have been private, said some members want to wait until after a meeting of the warring parties in Sweden.