Al-Iryani Urges US to Invest Diplomatic Capital  in Securing Peace in Yemen

Abdulghani Al-Iryani is a senior researcher at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies where he focuses on the peace process, conflict analysis and transformations of the Yemeni state. Al-Iryani has more than three decades of experience as a political and development consultant.


Editor’s Note: Sana’a Center Senior Researcher Abdulghani Al-Iryani was invited April 28, 2020 to e-brief the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism, a panel of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs. These are his prepared remarks:

Thank you Chairman Deutch, Ranking Member Wilson, and Members of the Subcommittee, for inviting me to share my thoughts on the situation in Yemen and how to help reduce the suffering of its people.

My name is Abdulghani Al-Iryani. I am a senior researcher at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, a Yemen-based think tank. I spent the past five years advising the UN Special Envoy for Yemen on various aspects of the peace process and spent most of last year in Sana’a and Hodeidah helping the UN Development Programme support the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. 

I have traveled across Yemen’s frontlines, witnessed the suffering caused by war, and seen millions of Yemenis held hostage to the opportunism of the warring parties and the intrigues of their foreign backers. The Houthi movement increasingly runs a brutal, theocratic police state. The Saudi-led coalition, supported by the US and others, has senselessly bombed civilians and infrastructure and obstructed Yemen’s imports. The government of President Hadi has squandered its legitimacy through corruption and incompetence. Regional competitions for influence – between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and increasingly between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – further complicate the situation.

Yemen is also suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. With 80 percent of the population in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, 31 of 41 UN major humanitarian programs in Yemen will close or reduce their operations due to lack of funds, and response to Covid 19 is virtually non-existent in a country with millions among its population having compromised immune systems due to malnutrition.

Overall, the international community has failed Yemen. In deference to Saudi Arabia, the US and other powers have held onto the obsolete Resolution 2216 framework, requiring the Houthis – who control the capital – to give up everything before negotiations begin, and have supported sanctions that have only punished the people of Yemen. The international community also ignored the social divisions within Yemen and the need to give voice to all parties, including the Southern Transitional Council which has just openly challenged Hadi’s government by declaring self-autonomy in Aden, possibly triggering a civil war within a civil war.  

The Saudis have realized they cannot achieve their main declared goal of returning Hadi to Sana’a, or their main undeclared goal of controlling a corridor through eastern Yemen to the Indian Ocean that would let them circumvent the Strait of Hormuz. So, they are now seeking a face-saving exit, as indicated by their recent unilateral ceasefire announcements, which were rejected by the Houthis as empty gestures.

The Houthis are struggling economically while remaining militarily capable, and know the time to end the war is now while they are still on top. The Houthis know their long-term interests require good relations with Saudi Arabia, as they come from a part of Yemen that always has been economically and socially connected with the Saudis.

The Saudis, Hadi’s internationally recognized government, and the Houthis all want to end this war, but they just don’t know how. 

The US and other powers should support a diplomatic approach that, while focusing on reuniting the country and its central institutions, recognizes Yemen’s many voices — and they should propose a highly decentralized national unity government.

The US can help Yemen and Saudi Arabia reach a reasonable compromise that meets Saudi strategic aspirations of a corridor through Yemeni territory that does not violate Yemeni unity and territorial integrity. 

This Congress can help to end the war and Yemen’s suffering by stopping weapons sales to parties of the conflict, resuming humanitarian aid to the people of Yemen, and pressuring the parties to resume peace negotiations.  

Should the US decide to invest diplomatic capital to secure peace in Yemen, it will succeed.  

The state decay in Yemen is approaching the point of no return. I appeal to you to act now. 

Thank you again for the chance to speak with you today, and I look forward to any questions you might have. 

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