New York, Asharq Al-Awsat- Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu-Bakr Abdullah al Qirbi talks to Asharq Al Awsat about the recent presidential elections, the United Nation’s Security Council, the Middle East peace process, the prevailing problem of terrorism in the Middle East and counter-terrorism, the possibility of Yemen joining the Gulf Cooperation Council and the fight against corruption within the Yemeni government.
Q) There have been doubts cast upon President Ali Saleh’s victory in the recent elections. Did the president obtain over 80% of the popular vote?
A) This is an odd question. Whether the number of votes is 90% or 80%, people will always be troubled [by the results].
Q) It seems that these are normal results for Arab elections and referendums. What is your opinion of this?
A) I would like to assert that these are the real results and that there were many guarantees that the elections would be sincere. The EU team saw that. It supervised voting in all the governorates and took samples from the centres that it visited and they were almost identical to what actually took place. The EU team frankly stated that some small violations did take place however not to the extent that they would cast doubts on the results. It added that such violations are expected from any elections. The team came to assess the Yemeni elections. It has its own assessment criteria and I do not think it is afraid to tell the truth in fear of the government or the opposition.
Q) Can you tell us about the foreign observers who visited Yemen to oversee the elections?
A) There were 400 foreign observers; however, you should also include the embassies that took part in supervising [the elections]. Some international organizations took part by training local observers to carry out this work. One could say that there were thousands of observers. Moreover, at every polling station, there was a supervisory committee split between the Congress Party and the opposition to supervise these stations in addition to the observers. I believe that all the necessary measures for holding free and open elections were taken.
Q) Is there any real chance of reactivating the Middle East peace process following the call for a UN Security Council resolution that was made in the meeting attended by Arab groups in which you participated?
A) I believe that the purpose of presenting the Arab-Israeli conflict dossier to the Security Council is to activate the efforts to resolve this age-old conflict. The Arabs therefore went to the Security Council to explain their exact vision of this peace that would serve the Arabs and Israel and even though it does not aspire for more than that, there are always attempts of blackmail in order to get more. The Arabs’ initiative is manifested in the roadmap and the international resolutions. The Arabs want nothing more than implementation of the Security Council resolutions, which are clear, whether in connection with the demand for Israel’s withdrawal from the Arab territories or the establishment of the Palestinian state or related to the issue of refugees. Now, after four years, we say with deep regret that the Quartet, (the United States, the UN, Russia, and the EU), has abandoned the dossier. Every party became preoccupied with some other issue. The United States for example became preoccupied with Iraq. As a result, there has been this escalation, the war in Lebanon, and these barbaric and continuous attacks on the Palestinians. It is obvious that silence is not an option; therefore, we went to the Security Council. I believe that what we heard from 14 non-Arab members confirms that the Palestinian issue is the root-cause of the current problem, the repeated struggles, the crises, and terrorism and that this issue should be tackled.
Q) The Security Council failed to issue any statement as a result of the conditions laid down by the US administration on the Hamas government. Is it possible to find an opportunity to deal with this issue?
A) All conditions have counter conditions. Let us look at the formation of the Palestinian national unity government. I believe that this formation would respond to a number of these conditions. You cannot think that you can have conditions without respecting the rights of others yourself. These conditions should be part of the process of removing the fears of all the parties in the region.
Q) What are the mechanisms that the Arabs are talking about?
A) As you know, the Security Council meeting ended without a resolution or even a political statement, but there was acceptance that something must be done. I believe that the meeting will be the beginning of the search for a fair and comprehensive solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This matter concerns all countries today because it is the source of a conflict that has an impact on the security and stability not only of the region but the entire world.
Q) How much cooperation is there between Yemen and the neighbouring Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, in connection with countering terrorism and fighting Al-Qaeda?
A) Yemen cooperates with other countries in the region and there is an Arab security agreement that serves these same purposes. Within the framework of Yemen’s cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and the Gulf countries, Yemen has bilateral agreements that bolster this security cooperation. I believe that the idea of separating a state’s security from that of other countries is incorrect and time has proved this. Antiterrorism operations must be within the framework of a strategy by the Arab and neighbouring countries in particular because, as you know today, technologies have developed in favour of terrorism and counter-terrorism.
Q) As part of the fight against terror, several resolutions by the Security Council have requested the strengthening of the security and technological capabilities of some countries that are weak in these fields. Did the United States help Yemen develop such capabilities?
A) The United States assisted Yemen by introducing some technologies at outlets and by training antiterrorism forces. I believe the assistance given by the United States was very limited compared to what Yemen spends from its budget. This is costly for a country like Yemen with limited resources and is at the expense of basic services such as education and health. In the end, however, it is a difficult equation because the other side will be harmed if you do not confront terror. This is why Yemen called on these countries that spend billions on fighting terror to take into consideration the conditions of the poor countries that are also participating in this endeavour. These countries are asked to boost the capability of poorer countries not only within the framework of fighting terrorism but also to combat poverty and improve education and services. This is not inseparable from the security effort in fighting terror.
Q) How successful has Yemen’s attempts been to remove Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani from the Security Council’s list of Al-Qaeda and Taliban members?
A) From the beginning, Yemen objected to the inclusion of Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani’s name on this list. In fact, we continued dialogue with the Americans and with the Security Council’s special commission on the basis that if there was evidence convicting Al-Zindani, then it should be given to the Yemeni government. We asserted that the government is ready to try him according to Yemeni law and take the “necessary” measures against him, but to include his name on the list without evidence is a violation of human rights. The question remains, how can a state be asked to take certain measures against certain individuals without presenting evidence of their involvement in terrorist activity? As a Yemeni citizen, Sheikh Al-Zindani has legal and constitutional rights and these cannot be bypassed under any circumstances. We therefore demanded the removal of his name from the list. The issue has now reached a point whereby Sheikh Al-Zindani has personally sent the request to remove his name from the list.
Q) Can you tell us about the possibility of Yemen joining the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)?
A) There have been some positive developments that involved taking serious steps to prepare the Yemeni economy to be concordant with the economies of the GCC countries. The donor countries will hold a meeting in November under the sponsorship of the GCC, Britain, and the World Bank to look into the necessities for preparing this economy.
Another conference for investors will follow the November meeting, also supported by Gulf and international sponsorship, in February 2007. We are also preparing for a ministerial meeting in Sanaa at the end of October to discuss these issues. Matters are moving in the right direction and this is what we are hoping for.
Q) Will the fight against corruption that prevailed under the previous governments be on the next government’s agenda?
A) I believe that if you followed the campaigns and speeches of the presidential elections, and the president’s elections program that was published in Yemen’s opposition, government, and party newspapers, you would see that the program was clear and asserted that President Saleh would lead reform programs in all fields. There will be a number of reforms in various fields such as the judiciary, the economy, financial policy, and administrative corruption.
Q) A new Secretary General for the UN will be elected before the end of this year. From your meetings, have you any idea about who will be assigned to the post?
A) It is important to focus on the qualifications of this person who will be elected to take up the post of Secretary General and leave the unipolar situation to pass resolutions through which we have lived over the past few years behind. The United Nations now needs to restore the trust that is put in it, which has been shaken in the past years.