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The Media Line: After the Saudi-Iran Deal, Will Tehran Force the Houthis to Peace Talks?

After the Saudi-Iran Deal, Will Tehran Force the Houthis to Peace Talks?

It is clear that the Houthis have a relationship with the Islamic Republic and that the Saudi-Iran deal could change the course of the conflict in Yemen, expert says

By Mohammed Sayers/The Media Line

UN envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg arrived in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on Sunday as part of his efforts to put an end to Yemen’s nearly decade-old civil war. Grundberg met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian for consultations over the situation in Yemen, including the latest prospects for peace, a possible prisoner exchange and the country’s humanitarian crisis. During the meeting, Amir-Abdollahian said the Islamic Republic backs any negotiations which would help establish peace and stability in Yemen.

The visit to Tehran came just days after Saudi Arabia and Iran signed an agreement ending the years-long diplomatic rift between the two countries.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations also reaffirmed that Amir-Abdollahian promised UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to host talks that would put an end to the crisis in Yemen.

Many analysts and observers see a strong relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Ansar Allah movement, the armed wing of the de facto authority in Yemen (DFA) – which rules the north of the country, known collectively as the Houthis.

This relationship is seen in speeches by Houthi officials, including the leader of the movement, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi. It is also evidenced by attempts to smuggle weapons from Iran into Yemen, as well as the presence of Iranian military experts in Yemen.

Many observers believe that the Saudi-Iran agreement will have an effect on the decisions and actions of the DFA, and that it will compel the Houthis to agree to enter into peace negotiations.

Wedad Al-Qadi, a lecturer at Sanaa University who specializes in political sociology, told the Media Line that it is clear that the Houthis have a relationship with Iran and that the Saudi-Iran deal could change the course of the conflict in Yemen.

“The Houthis implicitly admitted the existence of a relationship with Iran, just like the Lebanese Hizbullah group did,” she said.

Qadi says that any change in Iran’s policy in the region will be implemented by its proxies, including Ansar Allah, Hizbullah and the Popular Mobilization Forces.

“The same applies to the members of the internationally recognized government (of Yemen) – their polices will match those of Saudi Arabia’s new policies toward the Houthis; if the conflict between them is over, then so will the conflict between their proxies,” she concluded.

There also appears to be a connection between the changes in Yemen’s civil war and the Saudi-Iran deal.

First, there was the truce between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, followed by the Oman-sponsored talks between the internationally recognized government of Yemen (IRG) and the Houthis. After that, the Saudi-Iran agreement became public and, around the same time, the ongoing negotiations in Geneva between the Houthis and the IRG began to resolve some thorny issues including the issue of prisoners of war on both sides.

Houthi officials have denied the existence of any relationship or influence of the Saudi-Iran deal on the Houthi’s decision to participate in the talks. “That decision depends on sovereign conditions stipulated by Ansar Allah,” according to Sharaf Al-Mahdi, a DFA supervisor in the Council of Ministers in Sanaa.

Mahdi told The Media Line that “the recent negotiations between the Ansar Allah group and the IRG aims mainly at concluding the prisoners issue.” He added that “any future talks regarding political settlement is conditioned on the Gulf state’s exit from Yemen,” referring to Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition of Arab countries in support of the internationally recognized government of Yemen.

When confronted with the idea that the war in Yemen is tied to the Saudi-Iran deal, Mahdi vehemently rejected the premise. “This is too far-fetched; we are an independent state with full sovereignty. The Saudi-Iran deal has no impact on Ansar Allah’s vision for Yemen’s crisis. The Yemeni issue is not Iran’s issue,” Mahdi said.

Official Houthi spokesperson Mohamed Abdel Salam tweeted praise for the Saudi-Iran normalization, saying that it is time for the resumption of normal relationships in the region and the Iranian “scarecrow” used to provoke the war on Yemen is no longer valid.

The meetings between the IRG and the Houthis are still in progress in Geneva within the framework of negotiations aimed at concluding an agreement on an exchange of prisoners of war, setting up a mechanism for paying public sector employees’ salaries, and resolving economic issues before entering into a comprehensive political settlement.

Yemenis hope that this round of negotiations will bring peace to the war-torn country which has been described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.




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