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Alistair Burt Discusses Friends of Yemen Conference - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt speaks during a press conference in Baghdad on February 12, 2013. (AFP)

British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt speaks during a press conference in Baghdad on February 12, 2013. (AFP)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen is fast approaching a pivotal juncture. On the one hand, the country represents one of the more successful cases to emerge from the Arab Spring: Demonstrations first broke out in early 2011 and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquished power in November that year. As part of a Gulf initiative for political transition, democratic elections were then held in February 2012, and Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi was appointed president.

On the other hand, the political situation remains extremely fragile and the country’s economy is still in a state of recovery. More importantly, President Hadi faces a major challenge to try and convince disillusioned figures in the south of the country to engage in national dialogue, scheduled for later this month, otherwise Yemen could face a fresh outbreak of chaos and division.

Alistair Burt, the British Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, has an accurate knowledge of the political transition process in Yemen, having recently visited the country to meet with President Hadi in support of the settlement process. Furthermore, he played an active part in preparations for the fifth “Friends of Yemen” conference, which was held in London last week.

Asharq al-Awsat
met Alistair Burt at Chatham House, the location for the latest Friends of Yemen conference. The following is the text of the interview:

Asharq Al-Awsat
: Many Friends of Yemen conferences have been held but the Yemenis have yet to sense any tangible changes in their economic life and in their political and security situation. How do you view these conferences?

Alistair Burt: I believe that we should look at them from the perspective of “the glass is half full”. We have to be optimistic because the large number of Friends of Yemen who met in London recently are aware of the Yemenis’ pressing need to resolve their political, security, and especially economic problems. I believe that it is a good thing for us to have this number of nations willing to give aid. Indeed, many have extended aid before and will continue to do so.

Yemen was on the brink of a civil war and it is now drawing closer to the national dialogue table, following a political crisis that threatened to devastate the Yemeni state structure.

I know that the people in Yemen are suffering daily and I also know that the Yemenis need time to move towards a more developed and prosperous life. But both the Yemenis and the international community have to be patient in order to emerge from the current situation.

I believe that the progress that has been achieved to date is important. Yemen has entered a transitional phase and is proceeding well. Today in Yemen, there is a new president, a national accord government, and a political process approaching the stage of national dialogue. During this dialogue, all issues on the table will be discussed without any exclusions or bias. This dialogue will be inter-Yemeni, and we will not intervene in it, except in cases where we will give advice if asked. At the sane time, the international community will provide every care to ensure that the conference is a success and produces positive results.

Q: So far, some Southern Mobility Movement (SMM) leaders have announced their intention to boycott the national dialogue. As part of the international community, what have you done to persuade the southerners to actively participate?

As I said to you, dialogue, from our point of view, must be comprehensive. In other words, no one must be excluded from it. In fact, we encourage all parties, including the parties that are represented in the SMM, to participate in the dialogue because, as we believe, it is the only means through which the problems the Yemenis are facing can be resolved. Also, a fair resolution to the southern issue may be reached through this dialogue.

It would be unfortunate if any party decides not to take part in the dialogue.

It is very easy to say no (to dialogue). But the problem lies in adopting this stance in practice. In other words, you might say “no I will not participate in the national dialogue”, which is easy, but it is difficult to find an alternative. The parties that do not want to attend the national dialogue must have an alternative if they decide not to participate.

Since there will be no conditions imposed on the dialogue, it will deal with all issues without exception. In my view, as this is the case, all parties must seize this opportunity.

We know that today there is a national consensus among all Yemeni parties that the southern issue is a legitimate one. Accordingly, from my point of view, it is in the interests of the representatives of this issue to benefit from the national consensus.

Q: There are large disagreements between several Yemeni parties and some people expect these disagreements to lead to the failure of the national dialogue, if the parties concerned do not agree on a solution. What is your opinion on this?

Yes, there are disagreements between the political parties in Yemen and some of them are sizable. Therefore, from our point of view, national dialogue is important and necessary in order to face these existing challenges. The international community has shown its readiness to support the dialogue and encourage the Yemenis to resolve their disagreements, no matter what.

Today, Yemen is a leading example of the peaceful transfer of power for the entire region. In fact, this way of resolving disputes is now called the “Yemeni model”, because all relevant parties participated in it. We expect the Yemenis, who overcame dangerous phases themselves in the past before signing the Gulf initiative, to resolve their disagreements by themselves this time through the dialogue conference.

Q: What about the parties seeking to undermine the Gulf initiative?

Well, international resolutions have been passed by the UN Security Council indicating that sanctions will be imposed on any party that seeks to hinder the process of political transition in Yemen. These resolutions explicitly state that any party impeding the peaceful handover of power in Yemen will be subjected to sanctions.

Q: A statement recently issued by the UN Security Council mentioned certain names, such as those of the former Yemeni president and his former deputy who resides in Beirut, and threatened to impose sanctions on them. Will this happen?

Let me tell you that no one would want to see the UN Security Council impose sanctions on any party in Yemen. We hope that the parties concerned will be committed to allowing the new political process to continue, in the interest of their country and people. All parties, be they individuals or states, must not impede the resolution efforts.

Q: That implies that there are states impeding the political transition in Yemen. Would you care to name them?

I have already said that the UN Security Council threatens to impose sanctions on any party that impedes the resolution process, and these parties know themselves very well.

Q: Is Iran one of these parties?

I do not want to name names because, as I told you, these parties know themselves very well and they are sure to stop interfering in Yemeni affairs and hindering the transition process.

Q. What if, during the national dialogue conference, the Yemenis agree to return to two separate states in the north and the south, as they were in the past? Would you support this choice, and would the Yemeni government accept it?

This is down to the Yemenis themselves. They are the ones who decide what they want through the national dialogue conference. They can choose any political structure that suits them.

Q: Some say that you and the United States support Yemen, not for the sake of Yemen, but because you are afraid of Al-Qaeda’s presence there. How would you answer this?

In fact, we supported Yemen before Al-Qaeda established a presence there, and the relations between Britain and Yemen are age-old and historic. British companies are active there and economic relations existed before the war on terror.

Britain has contributed significantly to support Yemen economically and on the humanitarian level, and our government continues to provide further economic and political support. The recent Friends of Yemen conference was a case in point.