Yemen’s foreign minister Ahmed Awad BinMubarak has a clear message to the European Union: to be united, and to talk to Iran, in order to achieve peace in Yemen.
“I ask the EU to use all the leverage it has to give a message to the Houthis and Iran,” BinMubarak said in an interview with EUobserver.
What that message should be, is accepting the UN’s proposed deal for a ceasefire, reopening the airport in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, reopening the seaport of Al Hudaydah and to restart political talks.
Yemen is going through critical days, as the Saudi-led coalition announced a halt to its military operations – in order to give negotiations by neighbouring Oman a chance.
Unverified sources say Oman may be close to reaching an agreement between the Saudi-supported coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to stop the fighting and let humanitarian aid into the country.
However, any ceasefire is still uncertain, as the Houthis raise the stakes before agreeing to their participation to new political talks.
On Sunday (13 June) a Houthi drone crashed into a school in Saudi Arabia, although without casualties.
“The international community always talks to [Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif. He always says he supports peace,” he said, adding that “the reality on the ground in Yemen is different, as there it is people from the Quds forces running the show.”
BinMubarak also said that the Yemeni government has found ships full of arms being transported from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen.
Therefore, he concludes “Iran has the key. The EU should pressure the Houthis and Iran – without making a link to the nuclear deal.”
Europe, the United States, Russia and China have been trying to reinstate the nuclear deal with Iran, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by which Iran would not be able to go further with its nuclear arms programme.
Asked about the role of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the conflict, the Yemeni foreign minister said that they only entered the war after the Houthis entered Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of war crimes in Yemen by Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations.
World’s biggest humanitarian crisis
The war in Yemen, lasting more than six years now, has brought the country to total collapse.
According to Unicef, “Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 per cent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.”
More than four million people have fled their homes, and are mostly displaced inside the country.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees “approximately 66 percent of IDPs [internally-displaced people] in Yemen live in dangerous locations, characterised by widespread food insecurity and lack of water, healthcare and sanitation services.”
“Their situation has become even more challenging since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of a looming famine in the country,” the UN agency says.
Despite this tragic situation, Yemen itself is still hosting more than 135,000 refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia.
BinMubarak told EUobserver he was visiting Brussels to correct some wrong perceptions about the war in Yemen.
“The conflict in Yemen is not one between regional powers. Neither is it a sectarian war. Many in the EU forget the national factor in the conflict,” he said.
“Also, the humanitarian crisis is not just a result of the war, it is man-made. As one of the most important contributors to humanitarian aid in Yemen, the EU should be more aware of this,” he added.
The EU has funded Yemen with €648m in humanitarian aid since 2015, and €95m in 2021.
However, according to BinMubarak, the aid is not reaching the people that really need it. “80-percent of the aid comes through the port of Hudeida, controlled by the Houthi rebels. People who are suffering the most, don’t receive anything.”
“Therefore,” he added, “we need fix the real problem. We have to break the circle. We need to end this war.”
‘We lived in their tents’
Since the Arab revolution in 2011, Yemen has ricocheted from one crisis to another.
The Arab Spring lead to the resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of North Yemen from 1978 to 1990, and president of Yemen from 1990 until 25 February 2012.
He was succeeded by his former vice-president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, following an agreement made at the National Dialogue Conference, held between March 2013 and January 2014.
BinMubarak himself was secretary-general of the National Dialogue Conference, arguing he knows the Houhtis well.
“We lived with them in the same tents at Tahrir Square during the uprising,” he said.
According to BinMubarak, the Houthis were constructive during the national dialogue – but that has now changed, under the influence of Iran.
President Hadi, as well as the government of Yemen, lived in exile in Saudi Arabia, but since December 2020 operate out of Aden.