London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr. Abu Bakr al-Qirbi is the Yemeni Foreign Minister. Born in 1942, al-Qirbi was extensively educated in the United Kingdom, and holds degrees from the universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool and London. He worked as a doctor before returning to Yemen to become a professor at Sana’a University, and first entered the ministerial cabinet in 1993. He has held the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2001; however following the popular uprising in Yemen in 2011, former President Saleh fired his entire cabinet, requesting that they continue to serve in a caretaker function until a new government is formed.
Asharq al-Awsat met with al-Qirbi to discuss Yemen’s current transitional phase, and the capabilities of the transitional government to overcome the country’s mounting issues. Al-Qirbi elaborated on Yemen’s upcoming national dialogue, the parties due to participate, and the scope for negotiation with extremist or rebel groups. He also provided an insight into the role currently being played by the US and Iran in the country.
The following is the text from the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How true are the opposition claims that this government is frail and weakened by the political disputes among the parties participating in it?
[Al-Qirbi] It is known that the national reconciliation government was born as a result of national reconciliation between the main active political sides in the country. These sides accepted the process of peaceful and smooth transition of power and signed the Gulf initiative and its mechanisms. The forces that were on opposite sides are now partners in the peaceful process for change. This has led to the emergence of differences in viewpoints, ideas, and visions. However, if we view these differences from their positive angle, they enrich the government’s performance and the coalition’s political experience. They act as a catalyst to achieve the legitimate aspirations of all the sectors of the Yemeni society that have pinned their broad hopes on this government, to rescue Yemen from the political crisis it endured throughout 2011.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion on the ability of the current president to manage the transitional stage, in light of the complicated situation on the political, economic, and security level?
[Al-Qirbi] The recent package of resolutions issued by the president during the short period between the successful early presidential elections and President Abd-Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi winning a broad popular mandate to lead Yemen – during this delicate stage in its history – prove that he is a wise, tireless leader who does not give up. His political and military resolutions, and his recent decisions related to the national dialogue process, constitute a strategic vision to restore the cohesion of the military and security establishment and restructure them on modern national foundations. This is in order to rehabilitate the civic administration of the state and provide appropriate conditions to ensure the success of the comprehensive national dialogue, which is the principal mission of the second transitional stage in our country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is former President Saleh now away from the political game having left the presidential palace, or does his presence as chairman of the General People’s Congress make him a key player in the arena, particularly since some elite forces in the army and the security apparatus are still under the control of his relatives?
[Al-Qirbi] Through the General People’s Congress, the former president is part of the political landscape, helping to implement the Gulf initiative and its mechanisms as a partner in the transitional process and the national reconciliation government. As for the second part of your question pertaining to the former president’s relatives in the military and security establishment, they – like any other individual in the armed forces and security services – take their orders and instructions from the President of the Republic, who is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The opponents of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh accuse him of being involved in political action via the ministers of the General People’s Congress Party in the cabinet. To what extent does President Saleh interfere in the workings of the government?
[Al-Qirbi] I can confirm that the representatives of the General People’s Congress in the national reconciliation government follow the instructions of the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic. The reports in some newspapers and website are mere speculation. As time passes, trust among the various components of the national reconciliation government will grow, as will their ability to deal with the many important issues that they will face, during this delicate stage through which our cherished homeland is passing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It seems there is a crisis within the leadership of the General People’s Congress. How can the chairman be the second man in the party? Are there any plans to restructure the party so that President al-Hadi becomes its leader?
[Al-Qirbi] The general popular conference will decide on these issues. This party has faced historic challenges and has worked with the rest of the active political components during various stages of national action. It will reorganize itself and remain a strong supporter of the homeland, the republic, unity and democracy. Under the leadership of Dr. Abdul Karim Ali al-Iryani, the General People’s Congress party is currently working to reorganize its entire command structure. It is preparing for the general conference and formulating its political alliances in the national arena in order to closely study the requirements of the stage, particularly with regards to national dialogue and the constitutional amendments leading to the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled to be held in 2014.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why was the conference for national dialogue postponed?
[Al-Qirbi] I am surprised that you suggest the national dialogue conference has been postponed. During the brief period since the early presidential elections in February, consultations have been on-going among all the political sides. These include the 10 countries supervising the implementation of the Gulf initiative, its implementation mechanism as well as the transition process, and all the other forces including the Huthis, the Southern Mobility Movement, and the revolutionary youths in the squares. A roadmap has been drawn up and a committee for contact between the various sides of the dialogue has been formed. This committee will set the date for launching the dialogue and its various issues, as well as the mechanisms to emerge with results that will be translated into legal implementations. Naturally, the process is being conducted in coordination with the countries sponsoring the initiative, and the office of the Secretary General’s counselor and envoy to Yemen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Prime Minister Ba-Sindwah recently stated that secession will be one of the subjects on the table during the dialogue. Do you think that the country could be divided? Would it not be more useful to engage in a dialogue under the ceiling of national constants, such as unity and the republic?
[Al-Qirbi] All issues will be raised during the comprehensive national dialogue, such as the issue of the south, the Huthis, the youths, and women. We believe that unity, the republic, and democracy are the umbrella under which all the national forces are united. We expect some sides to impose their private agendas upon the general discussion. We also expect calm, constructive, and purposeful dialogue in order to deal with all the issues. No one should think that their agenda will be unanimously agreed upon by all sides participating. Otherwise, it would not be a dialogue but rather an imposition of an opinion from one side.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What degree of danger do the Huthis pose to the country’s stability? In your opinion, can the Huthis become involved in political action?
[Al-Qirbi] We have been calling for a long time for the participation of the Huthi movement in political life. We believe that the ideal solution for the Huthi phenomenon in a democratic state lies in its active involvement in political action. We are now looking forward to the participation of the Huthis in the comprehensive political dialogue to propose their ideas and visions to all the homeland’s forces. We do not believe that wagering on violence will accomplish any goals. The various sides will ultimately return to the negotiation table.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some sides in the Joint Meeting Parties group are accusing what they call “remnants of the former regime” of overlooking the expansion of the al-Qaeda in some provinces. In your opinion, why have the activities of al-Qaeda recently begun to expand and how do you respond to those that say that some elements loyal to former President Saleh stand behind this expansion?
[Al-Qirbi] Al-Qaeda has exploited the political crisis in Yemen over the past year to organize its capabilities. It gained from the disputes among political groups and the divisions in the military and security establishment, and has managed to expand in some regions. I think that the assumptions that some media outlets are making, by accusing this side or that of supporting al-Qaeda, are not useful in confronting terrorism in all the regions that it has infiltrated. Therefore, our political leadership, represented by President Abd-Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, is constantly working to abort the expansionist schemes of the terrorist al-Qaeda organization, and to defeat it. As the President said in his historic speech at the Supreme War College, the battle with al-Qaeda has not begun yet, and will end with its defeat and the rehabilitation of those deluded by it. At this point, we should also confirm that the confrontation of extremism and terrorism is the patriotic duty of all the political forces; it should not turn into an issue of political point scoring.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some leaders of al-Qaeda have recently hinted that they may participate in the proposed national dialogue. Do you intend to engage Al-Qaeda in dialogue, particularly since it has become a fait accompli in several provinces? Or will you continue to resort to security means to end al-Qaeda’s activities?
[Al-Qirbi] As we always say, the security solution alone will not defeat al-Qaeda’s terrorist ideology. We in Yemen have proposed many ideas for counseling and consultation with the followers of this terrorist group. We called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities to tackle the causes that make terrorism prosper by combating poverty, providing the unemployed with job opportunities, paying attention to the youths, and improving the quality of education. If the followers of al-Qaeda’s ideology lean towards peace and return to their senses, they will be part of the Yemeni society and will participate in the arrangements that this society makes to create its political future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some reports are talking about a US military presence on Yemen’s soil, particularly after the recent increase in al-Qaeda’s activities. What is the nature of the US military presence in Yemen?
[Al-Qirbi] Yemeni-American cooperation in the military and security domain is ongoing, particularly in the field of combating terrorism. However, this cooperation is restricted to coordination, the exchange of information, technical and logistical support, and the training of Yemeni ground forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some opposed to Yemen’s political settlement argue that the US Ambassador to Sana’a is actually in control of country, and that he breaches diplomatic protocol with some of his actions. How do you assess the role that Ambassador Feierstein is playing?
[Al-Qirbi] After the political sides signed the Gulf initiative and its implementation mechanism, under the sponsorship of 10 countries – specifically the Gulf Cooperation Council, the permanent members of the Security Council, and the European Union – Yemen agreed to embark on the transitional stage to achieve a peaceful transfer of power. One of the tasks of the sponsoring countries is to supervise and follow up on the pledges outlined in the initiative, the implementation mechanism, and Security Council Resolution 2014. Unfortunately, some media outlets are trying to distort the facts or create a climate of tension. We should appreciate the efforts exerted by the ambassadors of the 10 countries sponsoring the Gulf initiative to reconcile all sides, and for their serious efforts to ensure that everyone abides by the terms of the initiative and the requirements of the transitional stage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Iran’s interference in Yemen has become clear to everyone. Does the government have plans to combat the growing Iranian interference to weaken the political process and spread chaos in the country?
[Al-Qirbi] Despite all the ties and historic, brotherly relations between the Yemeni people and the Iranian people, some factions in Iran are trying to interfere in Yemen’s domestic affairs. We have always affirmed to our brothers in Iran that they should pay attention to their relations with Yemen and the countries in the region, because when a specific side promotes instability, sedition or sectarian conflict, this not only affects a specific state but the whole region.