US slams Iran for prolonging Yemen war and blocking peace

A Houthi militant patrols Sanaa. The US says Iran's backing of the militia has prolonged the devastating conflict there. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2019

US slams Iran for prolonging Yemen war and blocking peace

  • Envoy Brian Hook urges Tehran to change its ways and help make ceasefire agreement a success
  • Iran has “organized, equipped and trained” the Houthi militia

WARSAW: The US on Thursday accused Iran of prolonging the war in Yemen with its support for the Houthis and called on Tehran to help make a ceasefire agreement a success.

Speaking to Arab News at the Middle East conference in Warsaw, Washington’s special represenative for Iran Brian Hook said there had been extensive discussion at the meeting of the war, which is now in its fifth year.

While Hook accused Tehran of being the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, he urged the regime to play a positive role in the process that seeks to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen. 

“This conference was a very useful opportunity for us to educate the world about the very dangerous role Iran has played and continues to play in Yemen,” Hook said. 

“We have a very good agreement that came out of Sweden, Stockholm, but we now need the will of Iran and Houthis to implement the agreement. That is the diplomatic role that we need to take and we very much urge Iran and the Houthis to take that role.”

The agreement reached in December installed a ceasefire in the key battleground city of Hodeidah - home to the country’s main port. 

But the UN-mediated deal is under increasing strain with Yemen and the Arab coalition supporting the legitimate government accusing the Houthis of repeated violations.

Hook said Iran had “organized, equipped and trained” the Houthi militia, which seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 to spark the conflict.

“Iran has intensified, prolonged and widened the conflict in Yemen,” he said. “They have allowed this war to go well beyond the course it would otherwise take.”

Hook accused the Western media of missing the story of Iran’s involvement in Yemen. Weapons shipments from Iran have been intercepted heading to the Houthis on dhows and ballistic missiles fired at Saudi cities from Yemen have been supplied by Iran.

Hook said Iran had helped prolong the Yemen conflict far longer than necessary. (AFP)

On Wednesday, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al-Jubeir, met with the foreign ministers of the UK, US and the UAE to discuss the conflict.

They called on the warring parties to fully implement the Stockholm agreement, and in particular for the Houthis to allow safe access for the UN monitoring team to the areas they control.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are both members of the military coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen.

On Thursday morning, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abdul-Malek Al-Mekhlafi, gave a very “thoughtful and very forceful analysis of Iran’s very destructive role in Yemen,” Hook said.

Matthew Tueller, the US ambassador to Yemen, told Arab News that there needs to be a collective push back against Iran’s agenda in both Yemen and the region.

“We really hope there’s a process that would put pressure on Iran to not meddle, to not obstruct the process and allow Yemen to reach a peace comprehensive solution,” he said.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and the UN has described Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian emergency, with 10 million people on the brink of famine.

Turkey, US at odds again over Ankara’s ouster from F-35 program

Updated 21 min 39 sec ago

Turkey, US at odds again over Ankara’s ouster from F-35 program

  • ‘F-35 fighter jet program cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform’

ANKARA: The US announced it was formally removing Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program on Wednesday, following the delivery of the first part of a Russian S-400 missile defense system to Ankara. 

“F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the Pentagon said in a statement, adding that the removal would be completed by March 2020. 

Ankara, which has been cultivating closer ties with Moscow on defense procurement, had invested in the F-35 program, with Turkish defense companies producing 937 parts of the plane, and 100 of the jets expected to be bought by the Turkish military.

To fill the vacuum created by Turkey’s removal from the program, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced that Russia was ready to sell combat aircraft to Ankara. 

Dr. Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst at the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy, an Istanbul-based think tank, said the F-35 and the S-400 were mutually exclusive defense acquisitions, not only technically but also politically, and that this had been a very well-known fact for a long time. 

“Militarily, it means that Turkey is cut off from a state-of-the-art fifth generation combat aircraft project that fits perfectly for network-centric warfare and gaining information superiority in the complex battle spaces of the 21st century,” he told Arab News.

“Although many in Turkey talk about ‘alternatives’ like the Russian Su-57, for now, there is no tangible ground for any co-production or tech-transfer ventures. Besides, the F-35 is an air-superiority asset and a situational awareness node. The Russian military aviation prioritizes very different features such as super-maneuverability and kinematic edge. These are completely distinct design philosophies.”

There are now questions over whether or not Washington will bring Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA ) sanctions against Turkey over its decision to purchase the Russian missile system.

“One should grasp the content of the CAATSA sanctions spectrum. There are some harmless articles such as cutting off the sanctioned entities from US export-import loans. Yet, if the US opted for following the Chinese precedent, namely sanctioning Turkey’s main procurement body, then Turkey could face hard times in its defense transactions,” Kasapoglu said. 

US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense David J. Trachtenberg told reporters at the Pentagon: “The US greatly values our strategic relationship with Turkey — that remains unchanged.

“As long-standing NATO allies, our relationship is multilayered and extends well beyond the F-35 partnership. We will continue our extensive cooperation with Turkey across the entire spectrum of our relationship.”

However, for Kasapoglu, it is a lose-lose situation for Turkish-US ties, while the ultimate geopolitical victor is Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“He knows what he is doing, and there is no match for the Kremlin’s strategic calculus in the West. It is another unfortunate cold fact for the transatlantic strategic community. The S-400 has managed to do this without firing one single interceptor,” he said. 

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, thinks the negative repercussions of the S-400 have only just started and that the US-Turkish relationship may worsen. 

“Even with the F-35, CAATSA looms, and it is almost certain sanctions will be implemented,” he told Arab News. 

“Turkey has lost the aircraft it intended to build its future air force around. There is no real way Ankara can address this issue, other than to try and finish building its own fighter, a tremendously expensive endeavor dependent on foreign engines, or purchase aircraft from Moscow.”

In a press release the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated: “This unilateral step contradicts the spirit of alliance and does not rely on any legitimate justification,” and criticized Washington for leaving unanswered its proposal to form a working group on the issue.