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Yemen Peace Talks To Begin Monday

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Delegations from Yemen's warring factions are traveling to Geneva for peace talks to begin Monday. Regional powers, including Saudi Arabia, are also there, but so far, expectations are low. The U.N. envoy says his first aim is just to get all the sides to talk in the same room. Safa Al Ahmad has reported extensively from Yemen. Hi, Safa.

SAFA AL AHMAD: Thank you for having me.

RATH: So can you tell us what's the latest you're hearing from your friends and from your sources on the ground about what daily life is like for civilians in Yemen?

AHMAD: Everybody's saying that life has become really, really difficult right now. I mean, Yemen was already one of the poorest Arab countries. But now, because of the Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen, nothing is coming in. Water, electricity, food, medicine - all these things are really, really - become hard to come by. And even when they're available, they're extremely expensive.

RATH: This conflict is frequently referred to as a proxy war. Saudi Arabia justifies its bombing, its military campaign in Yemen, in part, by claiming that the Houthi rebels are supported by Iran. You were embedded - spent some time with the Houthi. What evidence did you see of Iranian involvement?

AHMAD: Well, the Houthis definitely deny the Iranian link. Very little proper journalism has been done to prove that link in that way. I'm not denying that there is a relationship between the Houthis and the Iranians, but to what level is that relationship? And is that really a reason for another country to come bomb the hell out of - out of Yemen? I would take a lot of what's being said right now with a grain of salt.

RATH: This is a very complicated conflict. I mean, there's even a third side in it, and you've reported from that. You've reported from the al-Qaida-held territory. You grew up in Saudi Arabia. You're as familiar with all the sides in this conflict probably as anybody. I'm wondering how hopeful you are that these peace talks in Geneva will get anywhere.

AHMAD: I'm not hopeful at all. I'm actually quite skeptical. There've been so many peace talks and so many negotiations since 2012. This is where we are now. We have the Houthis, who are now taking over the capital. We have the secessionists, who used to be peaceful - are now militias on the streets, fighting the Houthis. So what used to be something that could've been managed with negotiations has become something extremely bloody on the ground. And the air strikes - the Saudi airstrikes have just come in to complicate an already really bloody and complicated conflict in Yemen.

RATH: So where do you see this conflict going in the coming months? I mean, is any side - does any side seem to be winning?

AHMAD: No, but, I mean, this is the danger of the situation, right? The Houthis know that they cannot actually win and can take control of all of Yemen, but the Southerners, for example, will not stop fighting against the Houthis. I think we have passed that point where the south will continue to want to stay in the unity with North Yemen, and that was long coming. And the civil war with the Houthis now has definitely, I think, confirmed to many Southerners who maybe thought a federal state or some other machination of a federation in Yemen was possible. Now there's no way, I think. This is has yet to be fully told, and I think that's left a lot of bad blood between North and South Yemen.

RATH: So I just want to be clear. Do you - do you think that Yemen is going to emerge from this intact, as a country?

AHMAD: No.

RATH: Safa Al Ahmad has reported extensively from Yemen. She's currently working on a new documentary. Safa, thanks very much.

AHMAD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.