UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Yemen said Friday he will start working immediately with the government and Shiite rebels on an agenda, date and format for peace talks.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed confirmed to the U.N. Security Council that Yemen's government and Houthi rebels have agreed to send delegations to the talks on ending the conflict.
He said both side accepted a Security Council resolution approved in April that requires the rebels to withdraw from all areas they control and lay down arms captured in months of fighting, though he added that the Houthis are committed to "a negotiated withdrawal from Yemen's key cities."
Cheikh Ahmed told reporters afterward that the U.N. will announce the location and date for the talks "very soon."
Several previous attempts at peace talks have failed, with the Houthis resisting calls to withdraw from areas they control and both sides raising preconditions. It has also proven nearly impossible to arrange a humanitarian pause to deliver aid.
"We certainly hope that the parties will come with no preconditions — that the parties will come ready to negotiate in good faith, and that there will be representative and ample delegations to these talks," Cheikh Ahmed said.
He cautioned that "the positions of the different sides to this conflict remain very divergent" but expressed hope that these first face-to-face talks will rapidly lead to an end to fighting and resumption of political dialogue.
The U.N. Security Council welcomed the upcoming talks and again called on the parties to engage "without preconditions and in good faith." It condemned all violence and any attempt to intimidate participants as "unacceptable."
Fighting in Yemen has killed more than 4,000 people, leaving the Arab world's poorest country in the grip of a humanitarian crisis and on the brink of famine. The U.N. says over 21 million people — 80 percent of the population — need humanitarian assistance.
The conflict pits President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a U.S. ally, against the Iranian-backed Houthis — who seized the capital, Sanaa, last year — and military units loyal to ex-president Saleh.
A Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition began launching airstrikes against the Houthis and their allies on March 26.
Cheikh Ahmed told the council that extremist groups including the Islamic State are taking advantage of the conflict and becoming a serious threat.