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Asharq Al-Awsat talks to Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat- During the visit by Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi to the British capital, London, Asharq Al-Awsat met him and interviewed him on the latest developments on the Yemeni scene. Al-Qirbi spoke about the regional and international roles in helping to resolve the Yemeni crisis. Al-Qirbi spoke about the efforts of the vice president and his discussions with the UN secretary general’s envoy in this regard. Al-Qirbi pointed out that the Gulf Initiative is the appropriate grounding for the solution while taking into consideration the views of the United Nations. Al-Qirbi stressed that if matters proceed in the right direction then they are heading toward announcing early elections in the country. Al-Qirbi spoke about the Al-Qaeda file in Yemen and other issues during this meeting.

Following is the text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] First, what is the nature of your visit to the United Kingdom?

[Al-Qirbi] As you know, many British, German and American envoys visited us in Yemen and there is communication with European and Gulf decision-makers. We in Yemen prefer that meetings be held at the highest levels with the officials in these countries in order to explain the picture in a more detailed way and to discuss views that are close to reality regarding the Yemeni issue.

As a journalist you know that what is written about Yemen has been exaggerated to the point an expert analyst finds it difficult to follow, let alone a minister who is busy with other matters. Above all, the decision-makers in these countries are receiving a kind of simplified synopsis that does not reflect the picture fully and accurately. This is why we in Yemen want to hold such meetings with brotherly and friendly officials so we can portray a clear picture of the true situation in Yemen in a balanced way despite what is being said in the media which often lack accuracy and objectivity.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the nature of the European and American role toward what is witnessed on the Yemeni scene today in terms of popular movements, which the opposition calls a revolution and you call a political crisis?

[Al-Qirbi] Frankly, the western role comes within the efforts of the “Friends of Yemen” to contribute to finding an appropriate way out of the situation in Yemen. These efforts go back to times before the current crisis since the “Friends of Yemen” group had a role regarding the national, constitutional, and electoral reform project, and also a role in reconciling the ruling party and the opposition represented in the Joint Meeting. We received the recommendations of our European friends regarding the constitutional and electoral amendments following the 2006 elections. However, the political sides in Yemen did not agree on the nature of these amendments or reforms before the current crisis despite the efforts exerted and the meetings held between the authority and the opposition in this regard. Then, the so-called “Spring of Arab Revolutions” came and the Joint Meeting Parties tried to utilize the popular movement in Yemen in its favor in order to obtain more concessions from the ruling party. The European friends before and after March 2011 continued to try and bring together the points of view of the political groups in the country. As for the American side, they tried to clone the Tunisian and Egyptian solutions on the Yemeni ground without realizing the special political, social, and tribal nature that clearly appears to be effective on the way matters are proceeding in Yemen, contrary to the way it is in the Tunisian and Egyptian situation. However, what happened in Libya and Syria, and the current developments in the Yemeni case probably forced the Americans to eventually think that the solutions necessary in the Yemeni case must take into consideration the particularities of the Yemeni situation.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you tell those decision-makers you meet regarding the position of the government and its policies vis-à-vis the current situation in Yemen?

[Al-Qirbi] We stress the following points: First: The ruling party and the government support change that must meet the aspirations of the Yemeni people and not individuals or parties. Second, the change required must be in accordance with the Constitution and must fall within the principles of power transfer that are specified in the Constitution without bypassing the upcoming constitutional institutions. Third, it is from this point we call for early elections where the power is rotated through the ballot boxes, which will reflect the desire of the Yemeni people far from agreements that do not meet the popular demands.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Yemeni crisis has been going on for a long time without the required change. What are the ways out of the current complex Yemeni problems?

[Al-Qirbi] Actually, the complexities of the Yemeni scene are related to the complex economic situation in the country; you cannot separate the two parallel paths. This is one point. In addition to that the complex political situation in the country is also linked to the misunderstanding of the democratic process. The opposition in Yemen has not benefited from the democratic process in the country in order to prepare itself in the democratic race in order to reach power. The opposition only saw the democratic experiment in the country in terms of its ability to stop the elections from being held on time and obstructing the work of the constitutional and democratic institutions that allowed the opposition to practice this level of activity. All these issues led to further mystifying and complicating the Yemeni political scene. Today, the Gulf Initiative continues to be the appropriate ground for any solution to the situation in Yemen. There are some discussions taking place within the Gulf Initiative in order to make this initiative applicable. As for the time-frames in the initiative, there seems to be some difficulty in adhering to them because the matters that need to be achieved during the specified time-frames require more time. For example, the initiative states that the president of the republic must resign within one month of signing the agreement. Then, 60 days after his resignation presidential elections must be held and these elections must be supervised by a national accord government comprising the authority and the opposition. The 60-day period is really insufficient to prepare for elections as all parties admitted in light of the enormity of the security and technical tasks required to hold elections within 60 days, and if we are unable to hold the elections on time then the country will go into a constitutional vacuum. Therefore, what is required today is to understand the spirit of the Gulf Initiative and to implement it by calling for early elections. The date of the elections will be specified in agreement with the Yemeni parties in order to have an appropriate time-frame to prepare for free and fair elections with the participation of international observers to supervise them.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the opposition says that it does not trust any elections under the current regime. There is the problem of the electoral list and the elections supervisory committee which continues to be a point of contention. Therefore, how can we talk about elections under the current circumstances?

[Al-Qirbi] We told the opposition: their fears will be dispelled once an agreement is reached on drafting the elections law and the international involvement in it. We told them that the door will open for international observers from the UN, the US, EU, and the Arab League. The only matter remaining will be the electoral list, and whether or not the time-frame before the early elections is sufficient to make the amendments, review the electoral list, and open the door to registering new voters. This is what we need. However, if this ti me-frame is insufficient then all we need to do is to move forward with the elections. The new voters will be allowed to vote using national ID cards, if agreement is reached on this. I would also like to say: the starting point for the concerned parties in Yemen must be to place national interest at the forefront and to work on building confidence among themselves far from political wrangling. They must realize that the situation in Yemen requires the avoidance of such wrangling. They must not look at the crisis from a narrow perspective that does not go beyond party interests. Everyone’s goal must be to save Yemen from the danger of falling into violence in which nobody wins and no party will come out a winner.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the meetings held between the vice president and the opposition and the efforts of the UN envoy?

[Al-Qirbi] Since the assassination attempt incident against His Excellency the president of the republic along with a number of political and security leaders, the vice president has been working on a number of paths: one path is that of calming the situation and removing the security tension that followed the Al-Hasbah incident and the events that came afterward. The vice president’s efforts continue to secure the roads and remove all kind of tribal splits and security problems in order to secure the necessary needs of the Yemeni citizen in terms of food supplies, fuel, and so on. The vice president continues to communicate with the opposition and holds dialogue with them in order to find the right way out of the crisis based on the Gulf Initiative and in light of the discussions held with the UN secretary general’s envoy.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the result of those talks on the political front?

[Al-Qirbi] We do not want to delve into the results now because issues continue to be under discussion with opposition parties and the UN envoy. We do not want to rush issues.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But what is the course of these meetings between the vice president and the opposition?

[Al-Qirbi] The broad outline of the meetings revolves around preparing for early elections and a date on which the opposition can agree, as I said.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the president will remain in position until a new president is elected for the country?

[Al-Qirbi] If an agreement is reached on early elections then the president will remain in position together with passing his authorities to his deputy.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the president intends to return to Yemen as a president of the republic?

[Al-Qirbi] There is nothing that prevents the return of His Excellency the president of the republic to the country following the doctors’ decision in this respect. The matter is up to the decision of the medical team that is supervising the treatment of the president.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are reports on the Yemeni scene that the United Arab Emirates will probably host a round of talks between the authority and the opposition in order to reach solutions to the crisis. How accurate is this information?

[Al-Qirbi] There is no intention to go to the brothers in the Emirates for this purpose. The solutions are present, what we need is an agreement on implementing the Gulf Initiative in accordance with a UN vision. This matter can be done in Sanaa through dialogue that is held by the vice president and the various political parties.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is a campaign by some political and media parties in Yemen against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, accusing the kingdom of bias toward the authority and supporting it against the protest movement in the streets. How do you view the real Saudi position vis-à-vis the events in Yemen?

[Al-Qirbi] The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in my opinion stands at the same distance Vis-à-vis all the parties of the political process in Yemen. What is circulating in some unofficial media outlets does not represent our position. We regret such behavior against the kingdom that supported the Yemeni people with all its capabilities. We stress that such positions harm Yemen before they harm our brothers in the kingdom. I want to mention that the initiative that was signed by the concerned parties in Yemen is a Gulf initiative. The kingdom had a major role in formulating it and this initiative stipulates the peaceful transfer of power, so how can the kingdom be accused of bias when the kingdom along with the rest of the Gulf countries have put forward an initiative that could lead to a transfer of power in the country? In my opinion, those who view the role of the brothers in the kingdom in such a manner are referring to the humanitarian position adopted by the kingdom in hosting and treating His Excellency the president and the brothers in the political leadership and government who suffered a treacherous assassination attempt. This is a humanitarian position based on deep-rooted ethics that is normal among the brothers in Saudi Arabia.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Al-Qaeda file in Yemen in light of the current battles against its elements in the Abyan Governorate?

[Al-Qirbi] We in Yemen have stressed to our friends and the international community even before the current crisis that Yemen is targeted by elements of extremism and terrorism and those who call for division, sectarianism, and regionalism, and this is something that is obvious. However, regarding the other parties they did not take what we said about Al-Qaeda seriously enough in order to fight these elements. Today, the Al-Qaeda elements are gathering in order to declare an Islamic Emirate in some parts of the country. Acts of sectarian violence have also erupted in other parts such as the Al-Jawf Governorate that is witnessing continuous violence between elements that belong to the Joint Meetings Parties themselves. This is in addition to the other economic and humanitarian problems that have contributed to the political crisis and these must be treated. I read your interview with brother Muhammad al-Sawmali, commander of the Yemen 25th Mika Brigade in Abyan in which he focused on many issues that concern Al-Qaeda and the role of the armed forces in confronting these elements in addition to the role of the citizens of the area against this front. I believe that Al-Qaeda and its presence in some areas of the country is no longer a point of contention. It cannot be said that the state that spares no effort in fighting it, is the one that planted it there. Here I want to stress that the terrorism file is one of those files that the views of the political rivals in Yemen must not disagree over.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But you are accused by the opposition that you are using Al-Qaeda and the terrorism file in Yemen in a political way. There are reports that talk about this clearly. What is your opinion?

[Al-Qirbi] Frankly, I heard these statements and read about them in many media sites. I view them in terms of political wrangling aimed at reassuring the West that there is no Al-Qaeda in Yemen. The entire matter, according to this view, is that the government has rendered Al-Qaeda a scarecrow to frighten the West and to obtain money from western countries as though they are not aware of the truth of the matter.

But the truth is that the world today can see what Al-Qaeda is doing and realizes the danger of its spread in some regions of Yemen. The world and the West in particular, can also see the confrontations between the army and security personnel in order to restrain these elements.

Today, especially since the presence of Al-Qaeda is clear to everyone and has led to the displacement of thousands of citizens from their houses in Abyan then everyone has started to see the real danger posed by Al-Qaeda on the country. We can no longer say that Al-Qaeda is simply a government scarecrow in order to receive more money from western countries.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But you withdrew the security forces from the city of Zanjibar, the capital of the Abyan Governorate, and the mayor has also left along with his security and administrative team, abandoning one of the army brigades, which is left alone to confront Al-Qaeda there.

[Al-Qirbi] I believe that what brigade commander brother Al-Sawmali said in the interview you published in Asharq Al-Awsat represents a response to this accusation. Therefore, there is no need to repeat what was said. However, regarding the exit of the mayor of Zanjibar, then this came within their evaluation of the dangers at the time. The armed forces today are achieving major victories in pursuing Al-Qaeda elements and hitting their fortifications in Zanjibar and other cities.