Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat- In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Sanaa, Yemeni Foreign Minister, Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi reiterated that the Yemeni government is prepared to hold a dialogue with the southern leaderships, including those living outside the country and calling for secession from Yemen. He said that the door in the country may not be announced but it will never be closed. Al-Qirbi added that any voice that contributes to bringing viewpoints closer and presents solutions that proceed from the principles of a united Republic of Yemen will not face any difficulty. He went on to say that the door to dialogue with those that are called leaders south of the country is open as long as they come to engage in a dialogue under the ceiling of unity, the constitution, and the law. He said that regardless of their number, the elements of the Al-Qaeda organization in the country should not be ignored. He pointed out that this organization’s hitting soft targets does not mean that it did not affect the Yemeni economy. He pointed out that investors and businessmen are reluctant to invest in Yemen for this reason. Commenting on Yemeni-US cooperation and the leaked reports about US drones participating in hitting Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen, he said that Yemen will not accept foreign troops on its soil but it accepts the training of its forces and logistic support, such as communications, transport, and military equipment. Al-Qirbi added that Yemen is seeking the help of instructors from the United States, Britain, and France to train its counterterrorism forces, the coast guard, and the security forces in the country. This is in addition to cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, he said. Al-Qirbi added that when asked to provide material backing for Yemen, Egypt would provide such assistance even if it reaches the form of direct support. He said that what Yemen aspires for is help in pushing the wheel of development forward in order to confront the dangers resulting from poverty and unemployment and thus confront extremism. Yemen also wants assistance to develop its education curricula, its social security net, and so on. On the meeting on Yemen that will be held in Riyadh this month, Al-Qirbi said that it complements the London conference that was held last month to help Yemen and to assess the performance after the donors’ conference that was also held in Britain four years ago. He said that since the London conference in 2006, the allocations of the donor countries has reached about 70 percent. However, the execution on the ground does not reach 10 percent due to problems in the mechanism of the donor countries and the various funds as well as to problems in the mechanisms in Yemen itself.
Following is the text of the interview.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the wake of the cease-fire in Sa’dah, the spotlight is now on the so-called Southern Mobility that calls for secession from the country. Do you believe that this movement has a large popular base or how do you deal with it?
[Al-Qirbi] When the Southern Mobility first began, it made demands related to rights. The problems began in the southern provinces as a result of the government’s enforcement of the administrative and economic reforms policy, the program related to the structure of the Ministry of Civil Affairs and Insurance, and pensioning off those that reach the retirement age. There were also administrative problems in the southern provinces. The government began to deal with these legitimate demands and took measures in certain cases for which it paid a high price financially and in its dealing with the donors. Actually, the government took many measures in order to have social peace and in order to alleviate the hardships of our brothers in the southern and eastern provinces. Very unfortunately, however, elements that had been lying in wait for the unity since 1994 became involved. These were secessionist elements that wanted to exploit these legitimate demands or transforming them into a problem to undermine Yemen’s unity. This, again unfortunately, is the situation with which we are dealing because the demands are legitimate to all the sons of Yemen, not just in the southern provinces. In fact, the provinces in the northwest of Yemen also have demands. However, these demands should be resolved on the basis of the constitution, the law, and the state institutions. They cannot be solved through riots and sabotage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] According to published reports, a number of those supporting the Southern Mobility are former leaders in southern Yemen. Has the government considered engaging these leaders in a dialogue in order to remove the cause of the disturbances in the south?
[Al-Qirbi] From the beginning, the government announced its readiness to engage in a dialogue. Wherever there are legitimate grievances, there are mistakes and the government is prepared to correct these mistakes. But the sides engaged in a dialogue should proceed from the principles of unity, the constitution, and the law.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has there been any mediation or initiatives for dialogue with specific leaders known by name and who are residing in some countries abroad?
[Al-Qirbi] The door to dialogue in Yemen will never be shut. It may not be announced, but it will not be shut. Thus, I think that any voice that contributes to bringing viewpoints closer and presents solutions based on the principles to which I referred will not face any difficulty.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that we can say that the door to dialogue with those that are called leaders in the south is open?
[Al-Qirbi] It is as long as they are coming to engage in a dialogue under the ceiling of unity, the constitution, and the law.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us move to another topic that concerns the world, the Al-Qaeda organization in Yemen. Do you think that this organization is as big as it has been portrayed abroad?
[Al-Qirbi] It is not as big in numbers; nevertheless, I believe the danger posed by the Al-Qaeda elements should not be ignored regardless of their number. Al-Qaeda operations may not cause material damage but they have a big effect on the economic dimension and in the fields of investments and development. And this is exactly what happened in Yemen. Al-Qaeda carried out incidents that perhaps did not have a big effect because it targeted soft targets but these operations did have an impact on Yemen’s economy. The investors and businessmen became worried about investing in Yemen. We deal with Al-Qaeda as a real threat not only against Yemen alone but also against the countries of the Arabian Peninsula and due to the relationship that Al-Qaeda has with extremists and terrorists in the world.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the measures that were not taken in the past and that Yemen has begun to take at present? There have been reports on Yemeni-US cooperation. In fact, some are leaking information about US drones participating in hitting Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen.
[Al-Qirbi] Of course, many newspapers publish a lot of inaccurate and unverified information. They jump to conclusions either for the sake of sensationalism or sometimes to claim a press scoop. Unfortunately, press scoops have now become the main concern rather than being responsible and telling the people the truth. As we said, Yemen consistently believes that fighting Al-Qaeda is the responsibility of Yemen and the Yemeni security forces without depending on foreign forces. Yemen will not accept to have foreign troops on its soil but Yemen accepts training in counterterrorism or in training the security forces. Yemen accepts logistic support in the fields of communications or transport or military equipment. This is what Yemen is asking for.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there no foreign instructors in Yemen?
[Al-Qirbi] Yes there are; there are from the United States, Britain, and France. But their role does not go beyond training the counterterrorism forces, the coast guard, and the security forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there Arab sides also that are training the Yemeni security forces?
[Al-Qirbi] Yes, there is cooperation with Jordan in this regard and there is cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Lately, we have been seeing many visits by Egyptian officials to Yemen, especially after the escalation of actions in the south and the north. What is the status of Egyptian cooperation with Yemen?
[Al-Qirbi] As you know, the relationship between Yemen and Egypt goes back to the days that preceded the revolution in 1962. You know how the Egyptian people and army stood alongside the 26 September revolution. Thus we consider Egypt as a sisterly state that always stands alongside Yemen whenever it feels that Yemen’s republican regime and its security and stability are threatened. All these visits confirm the Egyptian stand in support of Yemen’s unity, security, and stability.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Egypt has said that it supports Yemen morally and politically and that it will stand along its side even more. What does “even more” mean?
[Al-Qirbi] It means that when Egypt is asked to provide any material support it will.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Even if it is direct support?
[Al-Qirbi] Even if it is direct support.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] On the Yemeni-Saudi axis: Saudi Arabia defended its lands when it was attacked by the Huthist insurgents. The Yemeni decision on a cease-fire with the Huthists stipulated that the insurgents must abide by the cease-fire on the Saudi border. Would you shed some light on this point?
[Al-Qirbi] This is one of the six conditions that the Yemeni government set (to have a cease-fire) proceeding from its main principles: First, any threat to Yemen’s security is a threat to the security of Saudi Arabia and vice versa. Second, the Huthist elements entered Saudi soil and as a result, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia entered the war within its borders and in coordination with the Yemeni government. Thus, it was necessary for the issue of security on the border to be part of the agreement with the Huthists. The third point is that we are in fact interested in establishing Yemeni-Saudi relations regarding border security so that the Yemeni border would not be used to smuggle arms or drugs or to foment disturbances and instability on the border and the border regions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you discussed this matter with the Saudi side or has it already been discussed?
[Al-Qirbi] First of all, this subject is part of the existing coordination between us and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can we say that it will be enforced on the border after the cease-fire decision?
[Al-Qirbi] One of the committees that have been formed (to end the war) is in charge of the border issue. It will ensure the implementation of the terms related to the border, the withdrawal of the Huthists from Saudi territory, and the deployment of Yemeni forces on the border.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that we can say that after the cease-fire there will be more security cooperation between Yemen and Saudi Arabia on the northern border?
[Al-Qirbi] Security cooperation between Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia existed even before the war because we and Saudi Arabia have been partners in the war against Al-Qaeda. Thus, there is security coordination and intelligence coordination between Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We both know that Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should cooperate to secure the Yemeni-Saudi border and keep it safe so that they do not pose a danger to either of the two countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the cease-fire include enhancing the control of the Yemeni state on the border with Saudi Arabia in the region that witnessed the Huthist insurrection?
[Al-Qirbi] Ending the war means that we shall return to total normalcy in Sa’dah and imposing the sovereignty of the state all over Sa’dah, including the border region. After the fifth war (in 2008), the Yemeni government established a fund to reconstruct Sa’dah and began to implement many of the reconstruction steps and to reconstruct the infrastructure and compensate the citizens. Unfortunately, however, the Huthists continue their sabotage activities and that led to the sixth war (in 2009). Much of the reconstruction started by the government had to come to a stop. As you heard in the statement made by His Excellency the president, the truth is now clear; namely, we want to move from wars to development. We want to use all our energies and potentials for development instead of fighting among ourselves. This is what I expect to take place now.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But what will be required for reconstruction after the sixth war will be much more than what was allocated for reconstruction after the fifth war. Do you agree?
[Al-Qirbi] Of course, the government’s financial obligations will be higher. But this does not relieve us from proceeding on the road to reconstruction, setting our priorities, and asking the sisterly and friendly countries to contribute with us to the reconstruction.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Nevertheless, do you expect the decision to end the war in Sa’dah to hold? Do you think that the northwestern part of the country would become a region of lasting and comprehensive peace?
[Al-Qirbi] I believe that what all the Yemenis, led by His Excellency President Ali Abdullah Saleh, believe that this is the last war and that all efforts will focus on establishing peace and restoring reconstruction and development in the region.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Despite the fact that the Huthists violated the cease-fire about two days after it was made?
[Al-Qirbi] Regarding breaching the truce, there has been no cessation of hostilities without a violation here or there. This is the nature of wars, the nature of combatants, and the nature of disputes that may erupt between them. But, I do not think it constitutes a problem as far as proceeding to achieve peace and security.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is noteworthy that the general public in Yemen is rallying behind Yemeni unity and the constitution of Yemen. But they have fears that the Huthists may exploit the cease-fire to re-arm and regroup their ranks. Do you take such fears into consideration?
[Al-Qirbi] If we proceed from doubting intentions there will be no peace in the whole world and not only in Yemen. Therefore, we proceed from the premise that the Huthists have good intentions just as we have good intentions that this war would be the last war. We hope the Huthists would realize that the destruction they caused and the shedding of Yemeni blood from both sides was not justified at all, particularly since the government is repeatedly proclaiming that we are prepared – within the framework of the constitution, the law, unity, and the republic – to deal with the legitimate demands of all the sons of Sa’dah and all the sons of Yemen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the war that just ended, is there a general assessment of the losses of both sides or an estimate of the public losses due to the insurrection?
[Al-Qirbi] We will make such an assessment. Of course, there are security and military organs that have such estimates but there will be an accurate assessment of these losses.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is Yemen asking from the Gulf countries, especially since sometimes some Gulf countries are accused of helping the Huthists?
[Al-Qirbi] First of all, I deny that the Gulf countries have supported the Huthists. In some Gulf countries, some Shiite groups extended financial help to the Huthists. This is what we are saying. The Gulf countries represent about 60 percent of the support for the development process in Yemen. Thus, the Gulf countries are a true partner for development. What we want now, especially after the London meeting and the good intentions and excellent stands that we heard from the GCC countries is how to translate all this to mechanisms to push development in Yemen forward and faster than in the past in order to confront the major development challenges in Yemen, namely poverty and unemployment as well as to confront the other dimension in development, namely, the confrontation of terrorism. We believe that fighting extremism in our Muslim world, not just in Yemen, is one of the most important issues because extremism is ultimately exploited by terrorist elements that lure youths with grievances about living conditions in their countries whether in Yemen or elsewhere. That is why we believe that we need the support that would enable us not only to create job opportunities but also develop education curricula, social services, and the social security network supported by the state. These are issues that the Yemeni Ministry of Development and International Cooperation will definitely raise at the Riyadh meeting (scheduled for 27 February).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will this meeting complement the London conference that was held last month to help Yemen or is it a separate conference?
[Al-Qirbi] It is a continuation of the London conference. The London conference was a meeting for many countries concerned with Yemeni affairs on the Arab and international levels that called for this meeting to look into certain issues: First, Yemen’s needs for its development plans and its needs in the security field and the fight against extremism and terrorism. It will also assess Yemen’s experiment after the conference of donors that was held in London in 2006. A report will be submitted to the ministerial meeting of the Friends of Yemen that will determine support for Yemen in all the fields that I just mentioned.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Very well, since the London conference in 2006 to date and the various Arab and international meetings that have been held to help Yemen, how much of this promised assistance has materialized?
[Al-Qirbi] As far as commitments and the allocation of the commitments of countries on projects, we can say that a lot has been accomplished. The rate of allocation reaches about 70 percent but the actual implementation on the ground does not exceed 10 percent. There is a problem with the action mechanism of the donor states and the various funds as well as in the action mechanisms in Yemen itself.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this include what is given by the United Nations and the European Union?
[Al-Qirbi] It includes everyone. Of course, the style of implementation differs from one donor side to another. I mean that the level of implementation is higher in some funds, such as the Arab Fund and World Bank projects.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Arab League? What are its commitments toward Yemen?
[Al-Qirbi] There are no commitments from the Arab League in development in Yemen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the impression is the Arab League made promises in the past to support Yemen.
[Al-Qirbi] This is in the political aspect, not the development aspect.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the Arab League’s support for your country on the political level produce any dividends on the ground in Yemen?
[Al-Qirbi] Yes; brother Amr Mousa (the Arab League secretary general) came to Yemen and met with His Excellency the brother president and they discussed the political situation in Yemen. I believe that you have followed up on the results of these of these visits.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the Arab League have any plans in the future to assist Yemen?
[Al-Qirbi] We will wait and see what the Arab League will say.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the Arab summit meeting next month, does Yemen have any specific requests from this meeting?
[Al-Qirbi] Regarding what?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the general situation in Yemen, such as financial assistance, political assistance, and so on.
[Al-Qirbi] I think that these matters will be raised on the bilateral level as well as with the Friends of Yemen group that includes an Arab group.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Well, we do not want to say that the Arab League as an institution cannot be counted on much as far as development in Yemen is concerned. What do you think?
[Al-Qirbi] No, no; I believe that so far the Arab League has not been active regarding support for development in the Arab countries. The Arab League is facing problems in collecting the commitments related to the reconstruction of Darfur in Sudan and support for the government in Somalia. Unfortunately, there is no Arab bank for development as is the case with the World Bank or the African Bank or banks associated with other organizations that can contribute in this regard. This situation does not enable the Arab League to play this role.