By Mohammad Mazhari
February 27, 2021
TEHRAN – Urging regional powers to cooperate for a settlement of the conflict in Yemen, the former U.S. ambassador to Sanaa, says the key to ending the war conflict in Yemen lies in the hands of the Yemeni parties.
“The conflict in Yemen is primarily a civil war and the resolution is in the hands of the Yemeni parties,” Gerald Michael Feierstein tells the Tehran Times.
“Nevertheless, regional powers, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran, must play a role in supporting the diplomatic negotiating process and encouraging the Yemeni parties to find peaceful solutions to their differences,” Feierstein adds.
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a coalition war against the Yemeni Houthis to reinstate the toppled Yemeni government. The Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) vowed to reinstate the Mansour al-Hadi government in a few weeks. However, after more than six years of relentless bombardments, some of which constitute examples of war crimes, the Saudi-led coalition has failed to reach any of its goals.
The insurgency in Yemen was part of the Arab Spring.
The UN has said the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in modern history.
During the war in Yemen, prior to Biden’s presidency, the U.S. provided logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led war on Yemen.
The recent escalation in the Yemeni Ma’rib has led to the displacement of at least 8,000 people in recent weeks, bringing the total number of displacements in that part of the country to more than 116,000.
Humanitarian institutes estimate that as many as another 385,000 people may also be displaced if the conflict continues, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of more people in Ma’rib city proper who could be affected by the clashes. International bodies warn that such a development would worsen humanitarian situations far beyond what people in the area presently have the capacity for.
The new U.S. administration claims it plans to reverse Trump’s policies in West Asia, including Yemen, to end regional conflicts.
However, some Yemeni politicians believe that the American administration is not serious in stopping the aggression or lifting the siege on the Yemeni people.
“Biden would make the decision to end the war and lift the siege directly,” according to Hezam al-Assad, a senior member of the political office of the Yemeni Ansarullah.
But Feierstein says “Biden is seeking a reset of the U.S. approach to ending the conflict in Yemen through diplomatic engagement and support for the UN-led effort to bring the Yemeni parties to the negotiating table.”
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: Recent statements by the new American administration to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia seem to be the first step to force Saudi Arabia to stop the war on Yemen. Given the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen after big damages to the country’s infrastructure, do you think Biden’s move is just a superficial reform or we can expect a fundamental shift in the U.S. approach?
A: President Biden has been clear that he is seeking a reset of the U.S. approach to ending the conflict in Yemen through diplomatic engagement and support for the UN-led effort to bring the Yemeni parties to the negotiating table to reach a political solution to the conflict. Ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive operations in Yemen is meant to help promote the diplomatic process that the president is trying to achieve.
Q: How could Saudi Arabia buy decisions of international institutes and even Americans despite its disastrous human rights record, especially when one thinks of the dismemberment of Khashoggi and their war crimes in Yemen?
A: I’m not aware of the basis for claiming that Saudi Arabia is “buying decisions” of international or U.S. institutes. There is global concern about human rights violations in many of the states of the Middle East (West Asia) including Saudi Arabia and there has been a strong push in the U.S. and elsewhere for accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia is an important regional partner for the U.S. and there is a long and positive history of cooperation between private sector institutions in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
Q: Don’t you think that certain Arab states of the Persian Gulf region (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE) would put pressure on the Biden administration not to change policy toward Yemen in particular and West Asia in general?
A: Saudi Arabia has welcomed President Biden’s initiative to end the conflict in Yemen and, I believe, the Saudis would embrace a political resolution of the conflict as would the other Arab states in the (Persian) Gulf.
Q: What is the role of regional powers in ending the war in Yemen?
A: The conflict in Yemen is primarily a civil war and the resolution is in the hands of the Yemeni parties. Nevertheless, regional powers, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran, must play a role in supporting the diplomatic negotiating process and encouraging the Yemeni parties to find peaceful solutions to their differences. In a post-conflict situation, regional powers will need to assist Yemen in rebuilding and recovering from the effects of the conflict.
Q: Some argue that Biden’s move in delisting Yemen’s Houthis as a terrorist organization is aimed at encouraging peace talks in Yemen. What do you think?
A: Primarily, the decision to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to list the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) was over concern that the listing would have negative consequences for millions of innocent Yemeni civilians, as it would interfere with humanitarian assistance operations as well as the private sector imports of food, fuel, and medicine. If, as a secondary outcome, the delisting also helps pave the way for a return to negotiations, that would be a positive development.
Q: Regarding your experience as the last U.S. ambassador to Yemen, what do you think of the fate of this war?
A: I believe the war will end when the parties become convinced that they cannot achieve their objectives through a continuation of the fighting and can have a better outcome through negotiations.
While the new Houthi attack on Ma’rib is unhelpful, I hope that we are coming to the point where the parties will draw that conclusion.