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Opinion: The Iranian “Dialogue” Ruse | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) addresses a joint press briefing along with Sartaj Aziz (R), foreign affairs advisor to the Pakistani prime minister, at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan, on April 8, 2015. (AFP Photo/Farooq Naeem)

Since March 2013 talks between Yemen’s different factions have been seesawing in tempestuous fashion, and the disparate outlooks and slogans of all these groups have resulted in a deadlock. Throughout this whole period the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been present in one way or another, supporting dialogue between all these different factions either directly through the Gulf Initiative or through sending its representatives to the country to ease this turbulent process. Even when the Houthis eventually declared their coup the Gulf states continued to support dialogue in Yemen, despite their own misgivings about the Houthi movement as a matter of principle, in order to take the country out of the dangerous impasse it had reached. But then things got even worse after the Houthis approached these talks in their customary underhanded manner and chose to ignore the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference—which had developed a new political roadmap for the country—and chose to enter into a direct armed conflict with the Yemeni people, a conflict which then led to Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launching Operation Decisive Storm against the Iran-backed Shi’ite movement.

But now, and all of a sudden, Iran is crying “dialogue!” and calling for talks between the different factions to restart—after it supported the group which led to the initial breakdown of that very process. Tehran is also calling for an end to the airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. Does Tehran not ask itself where it was throughout those long years when Yemen was slowly breaking down, and whether its recent actions have helped or harmed the country? And why is it only calling for dialogue now, after the losses its Houthi ally has incurred following the strikes?

No one wants this war to continue, and all those involved in Operation Decisive Storm are aware that it is in their best interests, as well as those of the people of Yemen, that this offensive ends as soon as possible. However, ending this military offensive before it has achieved its goals and genuine dialogue restarts constitute a (rather obvious) piece of sleight-of-hand by the Islamic Republic, with the aim being for the Houthis to continue their takeover of the country. Iran’s calls for dialogue are therefore completely disingenuous; its ploy here is obvious: to put an end to the operation and return the situation in Yemen to what it was just prior to the strikes. But none of this has gone over the heads of the members of the anti-Houthi coalition. Now even the Houthis themselves have started playing this selfsame game, promising to return to the table if the strikes cease. But the Houthis do not acknowledge the legitimate and internationally recognized political authority in the country, represented by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, nor do they recognize the outcomes of the Gulf Initiative which all Yemeni political groups agreed upon. So all this latest talk about dialogue by the movement and its main sponsor in Tehran is nothing but a weak tell by which they have both exposed their hand for all to see: in reality, they simply wish to continue the current crisis through subterfuge.

Morteza Sarmadi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s special envoy, recently conducted a whistle-stop tour of a number of Arab capitals, in a bid to convince the political powers there to put a stop to the strikes against the Houthis. During his fourth stop, in Tunisia, Sarmadi said his country was keen to hold talks with Saudi Arabia over the current crisis in Yemen, insisting that Tehran was “ready for dialogue.” Would it that any of the leaders in those countries which Sarmadi visited had replied to this by saying: “Saudi Arabia neighbors Yemen, and so its concern, and that of the other Gulf countries, regarding Yemen is obvious and warranted. Where, though, does Iran fit into this equation so that Riyadh can enter into talks with it on this matter?” The reality is that Iran’s latest calls and efforts prove, without a shadow of a doubt, its interference in the internal affairs of Arab states once again—unless of course Tehran actually believes it is an Arab country, or that Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are Persian ones.

If Iran is genuine about ending the war in Yemen, all it need do is convince its Houthi ally to acknowledge the legitimate political authority in Yemen, return all weapons seized from the state back to their rightful place, and end its shameless coup. This is the only way that any real dialogue in the country can restart. As for Iran’s machinations, well, the countries of the region have had enough of them, and they are so obvious and exposed now, that it is frankly ludicrous if Tehran believes anyone is fooled any longer.

The only thing really left to say on this matter can be summarized by reprising the words of the Iranian regime itself via its special envoy Sarmadi. He says that Iran “will not waste any effort in helping put out the fires of war in Yemen.” If only Tehran would expend the same amount of effort to end the war in Syria, where its destructive involvement, through sending weapons and fighters to the country, has been ongoing for the last four years.