Yemeni conflict ‘serving no one except for Iran,’ says US official

US Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker meets with a group of Saudi journalists in Riyadh on Friday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 07 September 2019

Yemeni conflict ‘serving no one except for Iran,’ says US official

  • US official says the Houthis are part of the problem in Yemen and must be a part of the solution

RIYADH: “This (Houthi aggression) is something that I think unfortunately is not well understood in the US. Certainly, the administration understands it, but the fact that Saudi Arabia is under attack on a daily basis is not something that is widely covered in the US,” said the US Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker. “We’ve been following this very closely in the US for years, and to see it up close it is striking,” he said on Friday at a meeting he had with reporters.
The lack of coverage of the Iranian-backed Houthi aggression in the US is because of the focus on other issues regarding Saudi Arabia.
However, the administration’s priority has been to put pressure on Iran. “Trying to convince Iran to behave like a normal state. They have destabilized or are destabilizing four Arab countries: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. There is a pattern and a practice to it.
It’s a Hezbollah model; they create nurture, arm, fund, launch groups outside of central government control and these groups act independently.  Sometimes they attack their neighbors, and in the case of Hezbollah they travel throughout the region, whether it’s in Syria or Yemen, they are a regional force.”
“The Houthis are part of Yemeni politics. They aren’t a new group, they weren’t established. The Iranians have been funding the Houthis, providing them with weapons, like the UN said, since 2009. This is not a new phenomenon.”
As the Houthis keep refusing talks with the US, Schenker said “We talked to everybody in Yemen. It is our policy to talk to all sides. The Houthis are part of the problem and they will be part of the solution. We are not going to get to a solution if we do not have talks with them.”
Meanwhile, Schenker said the US-backed Maritime Security Initiative is a “working progress which is not about Iran, but about the freedom of navigation” through two of the most important straits for global commerce, Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab. Several countries have signed on.
“Every state should sign on and participate and more countries will. The US is playing a major role, but it is of interest to everyone.
“There shouldn’t be a need for this because it is in everybody’s interest, but the Iranians have shot down American drones in international waters. Why are they targeting drones? Because drones can see what they are doing. Whether they are scuttling ships or hijacking ships in international waters. So, this coalition is not about shooting anybody, but shooting pictures. The Iranians don’t want people to see what they are doing, they want to have plausible deniability.” “It’s coming along and should be in place very shortly.”
Touching on the Saudi-US relations, Schenker described them as strong as they have been.
“Saudi Arabia is an excellent ally of the US and we are focused on security in the region and support in Saudi Arabia. We have many assets in the region and in the Kingdom.”
With regards to Yemen, Schenker said: “The US supports the unity of Yemen, we view the Southern Transitional Council (STC) takeover and actions against the legitimate Hadi government problematic. We appreciate the Saudi mediation with the STC and the legitimate government to come to an arrangement that unifies once again the government in Aden.”
“This is a distraction from the larger issue which is the Houthis, the Iranian-backed proxy that is firing missiles into Saudi Arabia. We should hope that the government gets back together again, so we can focus on the priority, which is ultimately a negotiated solution with the Houthis in the future of a unified, stable Yemen.”
The pressure on Iran has been proven very successful, he said. “I think you’re seeing an enormous amount of negative growth (in Iran), you’re seeing an impact throughout the region in Iranian behavior, the lashing out, for example.”
“Likewise, the renewal of nuclear enrichment. Even though it hasn’t succeeded yet in bringing Iran to the negotiating table, I think (Iran has reached) an impasse.”
Evidence of Iran’s impasse was Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran was not able to provide its proxy with as much funding, and salary cuts have been made, in spite of the fact that Iran still hasn’t come to the negotiating table.
He noted that it’s not very “expensive to fund the Houthis.” The price is much higher for Saudi Arabia as it costs $1.2 million for a patriot missile to shoot down a $10,000 UAV.
“I think for the people of Yemen this is a horrific humanitarian tragedy. The Houthis are leveraging humanitarian support. They are profiteering off of it. They are keeping it from the Yemeni people. This conflict is serving no one except for Iran.”


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman meets Palestinian President Abbas

Updated 16 October 2019

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman meets Palestinian President Abbas

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday in the capital Riyadh.
The king welcomed Abbas and his accompanying delegation to the Kingdom, while the Palestinian president expressed his pleasure in visiting the Kingdom and meeting with the king.
During the reception, the Palestinian president was greeted by a number of princes, ministers and military sector leaders.
King Salman also hosted a luncheon in honor of the president and his accompanying delegation.