A clipped photo of the participants in the seminar organized by South24 Center (South24)

Political Seminar: Washington is Willing to Deal with the Strong Parties on the Ground

Analytics

Thu, 09-06-2022 03:15 PM, Aden

Aden (South24)

On Monday, South24 Center for News and Studies held a virtual political seminar via Zoom under the title "Prospects of the Yemeni Truce and the Counterterrorism File" with the participation of Western experts and analysts specialized in Gulf and Middle East affairs. 

The seminar's participants included  "Stratford’s researcher specialized in Gulf affairs Ryan Bohl, security counterterrorism analyst Ryan Mauro and the STC's Special Representative of the President for Foreign Affairs Amr Al-Bidh. The Seminar was moderated by US foreign policy expert Hadeel Oueis while Lawyer Saleh Al-Noud undertook translation work from English into Arabic.

The seminar, which came in conjunction with the renewal of the UN-sponsored truce in Yemen, discussed the current conditions in the country in light of those new developments and the truce's prospects on both political and military paths as well as the counterterrorism file, especially after the recent rise of AQAP's activities. 



The truce from the STC's perspective 

Amr Al-Bidh initiated the seminar by pointing out that "the truce happened finally after the Houthis realized that they are not invincible especially after the liberation of Shabwa by the Southern forces". He believes that the Houthis "will take this opportunity to breathe and rebuild" to  restore their power.
 
Al-Bidh asked about "How the UN will handle the issues after the truce, especially the truce-building measurements, opening the roads and exchanging prisoners". He also asked if the new UN Envoy, Hans Grundberg, will succeed in expanding political participation with different parties after the failure of his predecessor "Martin Griffiths". He pointed to the importance of putting the "Unity" problem on the negotiation table for designing a comprehensive peace process". 

Regarding the STC's stance towards the economic challenges experienced by Yemen, Al-Bidh said "all problems are interlinked together". He added that "the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) is still new, so the mechanism of decision within it has not been yet formed . As soon as this is formed, then the policies will start to kick in”. Consequently, he believes that the "STC will push these agendas by ministers who are represented in the government and by the PLC's member, our President Aidrous Al-Zubaidi to push these kind of programs against terrorism groups and also at the same time to tackle all the problems that we are facing such as the immigration which became a big problem in the South". 

He added that "the STC will try to use the help of the international community to push the other powers and forces within the Yemeni government to accept and to help those policies and agendas".

Washington and Riyadh

Ryan Bohl spoke about the nature of the relationship between US and KSA and its impact on the Yemeni file pointing to the strong historical ties between the two countries. 

He said: "the Houthis still seek to change Yemen to the ideological system they want. They won't abandon it". 

According to Bohl, the internationally-recognized government's endeavor towards the path of peace is because "they don't see a viable path for them to militarily move back to Sanaa". 

However, he does not believe that the "Yemeni government forces are capable of liberating Sanaa, especially after the retrenchment made by the Arab Coalition and the UAE forces". But if the "Houthis dare to attack the main Saudi cities", they will be met with a strong response.

Biden Administration and the involvement in Yemen 

Asked why the role played by the US Envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, has faded, Ryan Bohl said: "there is a strong non-interventionist, isolationist political trend in the US right now. This is playing out in Yemen and Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is part of a wider strategy. part of a wider strategic trend. It is not driven by a vision for what the region should look like". Bohl believes that "the US is informed by 20 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are values that the Biden Administration likes to bring to the fore of their policy. They want to stop airstrikes that kill innocent civilians. They want to bring in military aid. But they are not willing to put very many political, diplomatic and certainly military capabilities in their attempts to make these values happen".

He added: "A great example of this is the Houthi missile attack that targeted Abu Dhabi". It was near an American airbase in a way that could be considered an attack against the US. He noted that "under previous administrations, there would have been stronger US retaliation" like what happened in the previous years. But the US left the solution for the UAE and its response was limited to the logistic support to deal with such a danger. Bohl said that the US prefers to "act as a major stabilizer in the region" and has no intervention agenda. It authorized the KSA to deal with the region's issues. 

Bohl believes that the US doesn't have direct pressuring tools against the Houthis but "its pressuring tools are completely related to the KSA support". He added that Washington can't pressure the Houthis more than it did before.

Dealing with strong parties

In light of the demands for independence in South Yemen, Ryan Bohl recalled the Kurds’ secession attempt from Iraq in Kurdistan. Despite the Kurds relationship with the US, "that was not enough for the US" to support their session" according to him. 

Bohl said that this goes back to wider US concerns that if they start to allow things like secession happening, this could affect other regions. He added that the US can deal with de facto secession on the ground but it is unlikely to support achieving such a thing.

One of the attendees of the seminar asked why the US supported dividing former Yugoslavia into five states. Bohl replies that "this position came at the end of the Cold War amid many variables at a time when the US had welcomed the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, it lacks the desire to achieve this in the Middle East".

He also indicated that the situation in Sudan was different as there was a war that lasted for more than 50 years. There was a war against North Sudan until South Sudan succeeded in imposing the secession by itself. He stressed that "if there is a force capable of imposing something on the ground, the US then can accept dealing with this new reality". He said that the US didn't support the Kurds as it would be against its interests. However, there are cases which enjoy US recognition when independence is imposed by force. In South Yemen, this could be achieved but not in the current stage according to the American researcher. 

The rise of the AQAP

Hadeel Oueis asked about the secrets behind the rise of the AQAP's activities in South Yemen recently, especially following the operations that hit Southern cities during the past months. 

Ryan Mauro stressed the importance of the US admission of the AQAP's existence in Yemen and that the organization is still persistent and active. He said that there are voices within American society that reject the US intervention abroad. 

 Mauro said that the Biden Administration believes in its capability to reduce the AQAP's danger through intelligence and focused operations.

He explained that "to receive American support, the size of danger has to escalate although the US does not have any appetite for direct involvement on the ground" citing the latest US withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

The American analyst believes that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan "may produce a kind of recovery for the extremist groups who deem this as victory", especially that Taliban was a direct enemy and is now a recognized power. 

Mauro noted that this mentality could spread as there is ideological relationship among the radical groups such as the AQAP in Yemen, Taliban in Afghanistan and others. He underscored the importance of understanding these groups and what connects them in many regions which are expected to have activities in the Arab Peninsula.

Amr Al-Bidh reaffirmed that the STC's agenda is to restore South Yemen as a civil and democratic state which stands against all extremist groups whether Sunni or Shiite. He added that they want to be active at the security level not only in Aden but to extend towards other regions in Shabwa, Abyan and elsewhere. He stressed that everyone holds responsibility including the Arab Coalition to treat all problems at cultural and awareness sides along with the operational levels.

The discussions moved to tackle the nature of accusations about the relationship between the active religious groups in Yemen, particularly the AQAP's ties with the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood (the Islah Party).

For example, Mauro didn't rule out a relationship at the tactical level between the Houthis and the AQAP, especially that Iran has ties with the organization. He gave a proof for that by the presence of Abo Mohammed Al-Masry, the AQAP's second man in Iran who was later targeted. He also pointed to the Houthis' release of AQAP elements. This could raise big questions about such steps and their meanings. 

Regarding the AQAP's relationship with the Islamic Islah Party, Mauro said that the latter is the most connected with the AQAP among all MB-affiliated groups". He added that 'the US had options to designate the Islah Party as being the most connected to the AQAP especially that its leader Abdulmajeed Al-Zindani is a longtime associate to the AQAP. Al-Zindani also openly called for an Islamic state and his son called explicitly for Jihad against the US.

Mauro claims that "Al-Zindani has close ties with Hamas, the MB's armed wing. Therefore, when you have countries like the UAE signing the Abraham Agreements, this may escalate the danger of these groups". He pointed to what he describes as "strong relationship at the operational level on the ground between the AQAP and the MB".

Counter-terrorism

On the other hand, Amr Al-Bidh pointed to the field role played by the Southern forces to combat terrorism in the areas controlled by them. He described them as being an “actor". He also indicated that the STC "coordinates and talks with the US on such topics. This goes back to 1993 when Ali Salim Al-Bidh, the Vice President of the united state at that time and the President of the Southern State declared in 1994. He handed over list of jihadist elements including Al-Zindani and how these elements have been used by late President, Ali Abdullah Saleh in his war against South Yemen". Amr Al-Bidh added that the STC shares with the US the same goals and values regarding the desire to stabilize this geopolitically sensitive region.

In terms of the political road map to achieve the goals of Southern People, and whether they will be internationally resonated in the US, Russia, China or other states, Al-Bidh said: "We are now in a transitional period. We need to go into a comprehensive peace process that will be designed to solve all the problems and among them is the problem of Unity".

He elaborated: "The ideas of secessionist groups are not really rosy in this area. That is true but we talk about the failure of Unity and how to solve this problem. This will be achieved through a peace process designed to accommodate the main issues of Yemen". He added that they shared these ideas with the GCC  during the Riyadh Consultations which mentioned that the Southern problem should be discussed in a special framework within the peace process. He described it as  the most "suitable" way to solve this issue without using military solutions. 

Washington's policy 

Moreover, the seminar discussed the impact of the Ukrainian-Russian war on the US relationship with Iran and the extent of this in Yemen. Bohl believes that Iran seeks to engage in relationships with Biden amid attempts to find solutions for the Iranian nuclear file. However, the US doesn't currently accept Iranian demands. 

Nevertheless, Bohl said: "There is an American desire to reduce tension with Iran but the war in Europe has attracted much effort and attention. This in turn reduced focus on Yemen".

 For his part, Mauro describes the US treatment towards the environmental and humanitarian disasters caused by the war in Yemen as being "double standard ". He claimed that "there are two ways by which you can get more attention from the US. Number one is waiting for the inevitable moment -I am sorry to say that-, when the AQAP rises up (When the danger against the US increases). The other thing that you could do is to really emphasize the non-islamist or anti-islamist position of your organizations and distancing yourselves away from these groups".

According to Mauro, "the Islamist extremism is rejected with all its forms, whether Shiite or Sunni groups such as the MB. Working in a civilian way away from Islamist radicalism could bring American sympathy".

Between the street's ambitions and the political obligations

Answering a question raised by Oueis on how the STC can accommodate between responding to the Southerners' ambitions and working with the PLC, Amr Al-Bidh said: "our mission here as an STC or our goal is to administrate the South and the rest of the liberated areas and to provide services and to have a good economy. That is our mission for now. Our future ambition will be achieved through the political (peace) process". 

Al-Bidh said: "We in the STC think that is very important also to work under the PLC because if we have a fragile government amid war and collapsed economy, this will be a recipe for the terrorist groups to be growing in this area. So in order to secure our areas and try to work towards our programs and ambitions to terminate those kinds of groups from our land, we have to cooperate with the PLC. We have to be constructive and active players in this formation and  to do that in a way related to our main goal".

Al-Bidh stressed that "for the future stability in the region, we think that the unity is not stabilizing the region and that the two states solution is more stable for North and South away from centralization". 

The seminar was attended by a number of Yemeni diplomatic, political and military figures as well as Western researchers and activists from both genders.


South24 Center for News and Studies

South Yemenself determinationPLCAl-BidhSTCHadeel OueisAQAPCounter-terrorism