SMA NEWS – Aden
The US’s recent positions on the Yemeni file encouraged UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths to expose the Iranian role, and treat Tehran as a decisive party in ending the conflict in the war-torn country.
Iran, in turn, is encouraged by the US’s move to reverse the Houthis’ terror designation, and has begun to talk comfortably about the file, which is something it does not usually do to protect its proxies in the region, including the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon.
Yemeni political sources considered Griffiths’ surprise visit to the Iranian capital, Tehran, and his meetings with Iranian officials, an attempt to expand the number of parties that will play a direct role in drawing the shape of Yemen’s final settlement, in addition to recognising Tehran’s role as a regional player in the conflict.
The sources said the timing of the visit, which came hours after the US administration removed the Houthis from the list of terrorist groups, and appointed a special US envoy to Yemen, was an international effort to keep pace with the accelerating international changes on the Yemeni file.
A Yemeni political source described Griffiths’ visit to Tehran and his direct meetings with Iranian officials as a dangerous turning point in the course of the Yemeni crisis. The UN envoy had previously been more cautious in his dealing with Iranian officials, only meeting with them in the Omani capital, Muscat.
A statement issued by the office of the UN envoy to Yemen revealed on Sunday that the envoy had made a two-day visit to Iran, during which he met with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and a number of Iranian officials.
The sessions were part of a broader effort to negotiate a political solution to the nearly six-year conflict pitting Iran-allied Houthi rebels against Yemeni government forces supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Griffiths’ “immediate priority” in Tehran is to push a nationwide ceasefire, urgent humanitarian measures and the resumption of the political process, his office said. Those goals have repeatedly proven elusive over years of ruinous war that have left the country deeply divided. The visit was planned long before Biden’s announcement, Griffiths’ spokeswoman Ismini Palla said.
The UN envoy’s visit to Iran coincides with rapid diplomatic moves on the Yemeni file, most notably the visit of a delegation from the European Union to the interim Yemeni capital, Aden, headed by the European Union’s ambassador to Yemen, Hans Grundberg.
The EU’s visit concluded on Sunday after the delegation held intensive meetings with officials in the Yemeni government for two days. The ambassadors of Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden, and the Deputy Ambassador of Norway to Yemen all participated.
An official statement at the conclusion of the delegation’s visit affirmed “the European Union’s steadfast support for the government and people of Yemen in light of an impending famine,” stressing “the urgent need to reach a comprehensive political settlement for the whole of Yemen.”
International efforts to resolve the conflict in Yemen are learning from the conflict in Libya through a plan to place the internal parties on the table for direct dialogue, with the aim of reaching a political settlement that guarantees the interests of regional and international actors in the Yemeni file, including ensuring the existence of any direct role for those parties on the ground.
This increasing the chances of transforming Griffiths’ vision — known as the “joint declaration” — into a general framework for a final solution in the country, while providing sufficient guarantees for Yemen’s neighbours to protect their security, in addition to recognising Iran as a new player and a regional supporter of the Houthi militias that have recently been able to secure military gains to enhance their position in final consultations to reach a solution for the conflict.
The changes in the new US administration’s policy have put the US’s vision more in alignment with that of Europe, which is willing to give Iran leverage in Yemen in return for Tehran returning to the nuclear agreement.
Observers believe that Washington, through its special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking, will likely play a more active role in the conflict in the coming period to support Griffiths’ vision for a comprehensive ceasefire mechanism, start the transitional phase, resume consultations between the Yemeni government and the Houthis and pressure Yemeni and regional parties to agree to a joint declaration and the initiation of new rounds of dialogue.
Despite the political gains made by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen in recent days following US President Joe Biden’s inauguration, such as the removal of the Houthi’s terror designation and Washington’s halting support for the Arab coalition, Tehran has not hidden its concern about Washington playing an active role in Yemen.
Yemeni media quoted the Iranian ambassador to the internationally unrecognised government of Sana’a, Hassan Erlo, as accusing Washington of seeking to impose its political and military presence in Yemen.
The sources quoted Erlo as saying in a tweet, “America is the greatest devil, and we are not optimistic about the American rhetoric. Certainly the new administration has a different policy from its predecessors, which is to impose a direct political and military presence in Yemen, as happened in both Iraq and Syria.”
Yemeni political sources considered the position to be an Iranian attempt to link any settlement in Yemen with resolving the differences it has with the United States and the European Union over the nuclear agreement, given that it is the only party capable of forcing the Houthis to engage in a political settlement in the Yemeni file.
— Saudi statements —
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, which leads the Arab coalition in Yemen, has signalled its unwillingness to make any concessions related to national security, including addressing any potential threats coming from the Iran-backed Houthi militias.
Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman cautiously welcomed US statements about stopping the war in Yemen and affirmed Riyadh’s commitment to supporting Yemeni “legitimacy,” which observers said signalled the Saudi government’s commitment to protecting the kingdom’s national security and steering clear of external pressure.
The Saudi deputy defense minister stressed the kingdom’s commitment to reaching “a comprehensive political solution in the war-torn country based on the three references, which will ensure peace and stability for Yemen and the region.”
The three references include the outcomes of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference (2013-2014), the Gulf initiative and UN Security Council resolutions on Yemen.
Saudi statements in support of a political settlement to the Yemeni conflict coincided with the continued response to Houthi attacks and the destruction of hostile targets, in spite of Washington’s announcement it was halting its military support for the Arab coalition.
On Sunday, the Arab coalition announced it had intercepted and destroyed a booby-trapped drone launched by the militias towards southern Saudi Arabia.
Yemeni military sources revealed that, during the past days, the governorate of Marib was subjected to one of the most severe Houthi attacks from various fronts, in conjunction with the launch of numerous ballistic missiles and drones on the city.
The Houthis seek to take advantage of the state of international inaction towards their practices and achieve the largest possible military gain before reaching a ceasefire agreement and resuming political consultations under UN auspices.
Yemeni Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani said that “the removal of the Houthi militias’ designation as a terrorist organisation … sends wrong signals to the Houthis and Iran to continue their escalatory approach, crimes and violations against civilians.”
Eryani indicated in a series of tweets that “removing the designation will contribute to complicating the Yemeni crisis, prolonging the coup, and exacerbating the human suffering caused by the war that the Houthis triggered.” He added Washington’s move will also “make peace out of Yemenis’ reach and will amount to a free gift to the Iranian regime, strengthening its subversive policies in the region and threatening international interests.”
Yemeni observers say the international and Western approach to ending the Yemeni conflict lacks political realism as it is remain oblivious to many of the complexities of Yemen’s political, regional and ideological file, noting that imposing a settlement that does not guarantee Iran’s military influence will be stopped will turn the country into a regional battleground.
The observers also warn that rewarding the Houthis by empowering them to control the northern governorates will provide an excuse for secessionists in the south to attempt to break away, with the risk of dividing the country on regional and sectarian bases.