Yemen’s rebels will have a role in their country’s future, a minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has said, voicing optimism that a recent peace deal between the government and southern separatists could lead to a wider political solution to years of war.
Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs in the UAE – a key member in the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s government against the Houthi rebels – urged all sides to maintain momentum for a political resolution.
“Such an agreement must take account of the legitimate aspirations of all parts of Yemeni society. That includes the Houthis,” Gargash said at a political conference in Abu Dhabi.
“Houthi militias have wreaked havoc on the country, but they are a part of Yemeni society and they will have a role in its future.”
The Houthi rebels have been fighting the internationally recognised government and its allies for more than four years in a war that has pushed the country to the brink of famine.
But Gargash said he was hopeful a power-sharing deal between the government and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council, signed in Riyadh last week, could pave the way for a wider peace deal.
“The agreement solidifies the anti-Houthi coalition and provides a more robust basis for reaching a political solution,” he said. “Now we need to build on the momentum this has given us.”
The so-called Riyadh agreement would see Yemen’s government return to Aden – the interim capital seized by separatists in August – and place the forces from both sides under the authority of the defence and interior ministries.
Gargash’s comments came after a rally organised by the Houthis to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad on Saturday drew hundreds of thousands in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, a much larger crowd than last year.
Rebel chief Abdul Malik al-Houthi addressed the crowd via a video message played on a large screen, while many chanted slogans in support of the rebel leader.
The Iran-aligned rebels took Sanaa in 2015 after which Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and their allies intervened in the conflict in support of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Since then, tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed in a conflict that has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Gargash also said more must be done to improve diplomatic relations with Iran.
“When it comes to dealing with Iran, we should not fall for the false choice between war on the one hand or a flawed [nuclear deal] on the other,” Gargash said.
“This moment requires a renewed, robust and realistic diplomatic effort to reach a more sustainable agreement,” Gargash told a political conference in Abu Dhabi.
Gargash said escalation serves no one.
“We strongly believe that there is room for collective diplomacy to succeed,” he said, adding talks with Iran should involve the international community as well as Arab Gulf states.
“Gulf states would need to be at the negotiating table,” he said.
A “meaningful political process” was needed, he added.
“For such a process to work, it is essential that the international community is on the same page, especially the US and the EU, as well as the Arab Gulf states.”