In talks with Houthis, Zarif backs intra-Yemeni talks, ceasefire

Iran’s chief diplomat meets Houthi group’s spokesman in Oman, calls for ‘political solution’ in Yemen’s long-running war.

Zarif stressed Iran's 'view regarding the political solution being the only solution to the crisis of Yemen' [File: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has reiterated his country’s support for a ceasefire in Yemen and a return to talks during a visit to Oman where he met a spokesman for the Houthi rebel group.

Zarif’s comments on Wednesday came a day after the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, which has been militarily supporting Yemen’s internationally recognised government against the Houthis, called on the rebels to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table.

Mohamed bin Salman also struck a conciliatory tone with regional rival Iran, whom the kingdom has accused of supporting the Houthis in the years-long country, saying his country aspired to improve relations with Tehran.

At the talks with Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam in Oman’s capital, Muscat, Zarif “once again stressed our country’s view regarding the political solution being the only solution to the crisis of Yemen”, the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The foreign minister “emphasised our country’s support for a ceasefire and Yemeni-Yemeni talks”, it added.

In his meeting with Abdul Salam, who lives in exile in Muscat, Zarif also expressed regret about “the six-year imposed war on the people of Yemen, and called for ending the war and lifting” a Saudi-enforced blockade on the country.

Yemen’s catastrophic conflict has flared anew in the past two months with a Houthi campaign to seize Marib, the government’s last stronghold in the north.

On Sunday, military sources said the rebels had taken full control of the northwest Kassara battlefield and made progress on the western front lines despite air attacks by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition backing the government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

As the war drags on, Yemeni civilians continue to suffer in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. In December 2020, the UN said the war had caused an estimated 233,000 deaths, including 131,000 from indirect causes “such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure”.

The conflict has also devastated the Yemeni economy, driving up food prices, and leaving the country with the second-highest income inequality levels in the world.

Saudi Arabia has proposed a “comprehensive” ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table, a proposal that the Houthis immediately rejected, saying a blockade on the country must first be lifted.

Riyadh accuses its arch foe Iran of supporting the rebels with weapons and missiles and helping them build drones used to attack the kingdom. Tehran denies the allegations and says its support for the Houthis is solely political.

On Tuesday, the Saudi crown prince told Saudi state TV that he sought “good” relations with Tehran, after it was reported the rivals had held secret talks in Baghdad facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

“Iran is a neighbouring country, and all we aspire for is a good and special relationship with Iran,” Crown Prince Mohammed said.

The two countries, locked in a struggle for regional dominance, cut ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the kingdom’s execution of a Shia religious leader.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies