Dubai: The advances the Saudi-led Arab coalition and Yemen’s nationalist forces have made along the country’s Red Sea coast in recent weeks are putting more pressure on the Iran-backed Al Houthi militia to join the political process. Yemen’s Red Sea coast battlefronts have seen nationalist forces gain greater military momentum, and a string of Al Houthi-held villages, towns, and districts have fallen in quick succession to the Yemeni National Resistance troops, the Giants Brigades, and the Tihama Resistance forces.
Khalid Hussain Al Yamani, the newly-appointed foreign minister of Yemen, has told Al Arabiya the Al Houthi militia has accepted UN-backed proposals for the political resolution to the conflict. Al Yamani said Al Houthis currently find themselves in a difficult position in Yemen, after suffering a string of defeats on the battlefield.
On Thursday, Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi dismissed Abdul Malek Al Makhlafi from his post as foreign minister, and appointed Al Yamani, who served as Yemen’s envoy to the UN since the end of 2014. Al Makhlafi is now the adviser to the President.
Al Yamani has been the face of Yemen’s legitimate government on the international stage, given his high-profile position. He is seen as an anti-Iran hawk, and has taken a strong stance against Iranian interference in the affairs of Arab countries in general, and Yemen in particular. In an interview with Al Sharq Al Awsat Arabic newspaper after his appointment as foreign minister, he said that there cannot be peace in Yemen unless Al Houthis give up their weapons. He lashed out at Tehran saying, “This terrorist regime [in Tehran], which supplies terrorist militias all over the world, is close to collapse as a result of international and popular pressure by the Iranian people, who are suffering as their terrorist state spends billions here and there for a foolish expansionist idea.”
Al Yamani added that “if Iran wants to be part of the social, cultural and political fabric of our region, it must rationalise its behaviour, as its terrorist behaviour ... encourages the spread of violence in the region. The modern and civilised world that respects international law cannot accept the existence of a state sponsor of terrorism and all subversive and terrorist militias in the region.”
Al Yamani said the UN has received messages from Al Houthis stating that they are ready to embark on the peace process.
But Yemen observers have expressed their scepticism about a breakthrough in negotiations with Al Houthis. Graham Griffiths, a Senior analyst at Controls Risks, told Gulf News, “The Al Houthis have indicated before that they’re willing to accept parts of the UN resolution, but have made that conditional on there being a simultaneous political transition to a new government. The internationally recognised government has always rejected this, saying Al Houthis must withdraw and disarm before a political process can be restarted. I don’t think Al Houthis can accept what amounts capitulation, and they don’t feel they need to so long as they hold Yemen’s main population centres. As a result, it is likely they are trying to buy time.”
Al Yamani is expected to start his tenure as foreign minister by focusing on negotiations and proposals as laid out by UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths.
Hadi’s government has worked with the UN envoy’s office, and is expected to hold meetings with him in the next few days. Martin Griffiths is due to present his ideas on June 7 after consultations with the government, according to Al Yamani.
Al Yamani said Al Houthis “suggested political arrangements should come before security and military arrangements. But the coup against the state in January 2015 came as a result of the preference of political over security arrangements. And after Al Houthis achieved their goals, they turned against the national consensus reflected in the peace and partnership agreement, under which the president provided facilities to save the homeland from the fate we have reached today.”
Al Yamani said it was not possible to talk about any political arrangements “because we consider them to be a foregone conclusion – [we need] the [Al Houthi] withdrawal and [surrender] of heavy and medium weapons and missiles. We cannot retry something we tried before... The coup must end.”
But, Griffiths from Control Risks cautioned, “...[T]he fight against Al Houthis is only one aspect of the conflict in Yemen, and so their weakening is unlikely to herald a return of peace or stability to the country.”
On Sunday, Yemeni officials and witnesses said heavy fighting between pro-government forces and Al Houthis in recent days has killed more than 150 people. Government forces have been trying to seize Al Houthi-held areas along the western coast, while an allied Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the militia with air strikes in the northwestern Saada province.
The coalition has been battling the Iran-backed Al Houthis since March 2015 in order to uphold the legitimacy of Hadi’s government. The war has killed more than 10,000 people.