Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed the Yemeni Foreign Minister, Dr Abu-Bakr Al-Qirbi, on the eve of the conference. Dr Al-Qirbi spoke of the preparations for the conference and of the role that the GCC states, the US, and Britain have played and can still play to ensure the national dialogue’s successful outcome. In this interview, Dr Al-Qirbi also talked about Yemeni-Saudi cooperation in the fight against Al-Qaeda, and addressed the reports of Iranian interference in Yemeni affairs.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Have the preparations for the comprehensive national dialogue conference, scheduled to open on Monday, been completed?
Dr Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi: Political parties and organizations have submitted a number of lists, but we cannot determine the names and number of participants until a presidential decree is issued naming the participants in the conference. Yet it is clear from available information that many politicians and political party leaders will participate in the conference. I think that the most important aspect of the conference is the participation of women and the youth. Women represent 30 percent of the lists and the youth 20 percent. Hopefully, they will have a clear, strong, and moderate voice in the conference to make the traditional political party leaders realize that they now have to look at Yemen from the perspective of the desire of youths and Yemeni society in general to bring about a change on all levels. This applies either to the constitution or the new social contract that will be formed through dialogue on all issues that concern the Yemeni people. These issues can be summed-up in the need to address the situation in south Yemen, in Sa’dah in north Yemen, the distribution of wealth, and the reform of governance and administration so as to allow citizens to participate in the decision-making process.
Q: To what extent could the sponsors of the GCC initiative, namely the United States, Britain, the GCC, and other states, contribute to rendering the national dialogue conference successful?
Everyone hopes that this will be a Yemeni conference and that the solutions will be reached by the Yemenis themselves. Everyone also hopes that within the framework of these solutions, the participants will be committed to the principles enshrined in the GCC initiative and in the UN Security Council resolutions. This is the primary requirement. There is no doubt that the 10 sponsoring states of the GCC initiative and its mechanism of implementation will monitor the dialogue proceedings. Experts and advisers from some international organizations will be present and will help the conferees understand the real issues, so as to benefit from the experience of other countries that have held national dialogues. What must be noted here is that the method Yemen pursued with the help of friends and the UN in preparation for this dialogue is almost unique in terms of its nature, participants, and the bases that the national dialogue technical committee laid out to conduct the dialogue. We hope that the interlocutors will handle the dialogue based on these principles I mentioned.
Q: The theme of Iranian interference in Yemeni affairs has been a recurrent one. What are the results of investigations into the Iranian arms shipments, recently seized in Yemeni territorial waters through Yemeni-US cooperation?
A UN committee is continuing the investigations, and I expect it to submit a report on the results next week. The UN committee is following up a host of other issues relating to the trade in and export of arms not only in Yemen, but also in Somalia and neighboring regions as well as arms smuggling. I think these issues demonstrate that the international community is aware that there are attempts to disrupt security and destabilize the region, and that some countries as well as terrorist groups are linked to these attempts.
Q: How would you describe current Yemeni-Iranian relations on all levels; political, diplomatic, and economic?
I regret to say that relations with Tehran are very tense. We had always hoped that, as an important Islamic country in the region, Iran would show consideration for the Yemeni situation and understand that Yemen’s stability is in the interest of the region, and that it would refrain from interfering in Yemeni domestic affairs. We sent Iran many messages to this effect, but regrettably, we would hear many promises and pledges, but all were never translated into facts on the ground.
Q: What exactly are Iran’s goals in Yemen?
As you may know, Iran is interested in regional developments in view of the threats that Iranians interpret to be a result of the international sanctions on its nuclear program. It wants to look as though it is capable of influencing developments in the region.
Q: So it can be said that Yemen is an arena for regional and international-Iranian struggle?
Yes, I think the entire region is currently involved in an international-regional struggle.
Q: According to observers, Yemen has not taken actual measures to deter Iran from interfering in its affairs, and has not produced evidence of Iranian interference. What is your comment on this?
Concerning the evidence, a UN committee is currently looking into the evidence and will submit a report on its findings. As to the measures that Yemen will take, this is not a topic for publication in newspapers or media outlets. Yemeni diplomacy and His Excellency President Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi are very keen on handling these issues within a diplomatic framework to further Yemen’s stability.
Q: Has Yemeni-Saudi cooperation in counter terrorism reached an advanced stage to deal a fatal blow to Al-Qaeda; or is it still in a stage of coordination?
Terrorism is currently an international issue that cannot be addressed through force alone, but requires a strategy. In Yemen we have crafted this strategy, but it needs support to implement it. First, we should handle this strategy within a Yemeni framework, which requires that the Yemeni people, their organizations, political parties, and clergy, shoulder their responsibility in combating this phenomenon. Second, there is a need to address the economic and developmental dimensions as well as to combat poverty and unemployment. If we garner international support for this strategic plan, I think its implementation would be less costly than a military confrontation in order to curtail extremism and terrorism in Yemen and beyond. This plan should be implemented within an international framework, not only a national one. Regarding cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Yemen in combating terrorism, I think there is more than coordination. We have Saudi logistical support and support for the counter terrorism forces in Yemen. In addition, we exchange information and expertise.
Q: As chief of Yemeni diplomacy, what is your assessment of cooperation among Sana’a, Riyadh, Washington, and other capitals, which have fought terrorism for 20 years without tangible results?
This is why we should revise the method of combating of terrorism, because terrorism cannot be eliminated by force alone. There should be an integrated strategy that looks into the causes of terrorism to uncover sound and comprehensive, not partial, remedies. The world has now several means for combating terrorism, but I do not think that any state can say it has eliminated terrorism there or in its region. If we cannot secure an international strategy, let us have at least an Arab or Islamic strategy as a starting point and provide all necessary resources and tools to besiege terrorism and extremism.
Q: According to media outlets’ reports, Yemen feels very embarrassed because of Qatar’s role in mediation efforts to secure the release of a Swiss woman abducted by Al-Qaeda, particularly because Yemen was the last to learn about it; how would you comment on this issue?
We know that what Qatar did may have been prompted by humanitarian considerations and an attempt to secure the release of the Swiss female hostage. Yet we also realize that the arrangements made by Qatar without the knowledge of the competent agencies in Yemen may have led to a disaster. In fact, Yemen constantly rejects handling the release of kidnapped hostages through the payment of ransoms to kidnappers. We notified our brethren in Qatar of Yemen’s point of view on this issue, represented by President Hadi and the security committee, because we do not want this conduct to expose many foreigners in Yemen to abduction as other kidnappers would seek to receive a ransom, as happened in this case.
Q: Is there any new development with regard to the continued abduction of the Saudi deputy consul in Aden?
I have no new information.