Yemen’s present and Iran’s future dominate talks at Manama Dialogue

Ismaeel Naar
Ismaeel Naar - Al Arabiya News - Manama
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The annual Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain concluded on Saturday with Iran and Yemen dominating discussions throughout the three-day event that hosted regional and international diplomats.

Future projections of Iran’s maneuvers in the Middle East were questioned with the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom and the United States reassuring their Saudi and Bahraini counterparts that protecting and safeguarding the Gulf’s security was on top of their foreign policy agenda.

In an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya News’ Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas, Philip Hammond said: “We support each other in security, we work together on cyber, counter-terrorism, defense collaboration, we support each other’s security, supported the Saudi-led coalition in its actions in defense of the Yemeni government.”

Meanwhile, during the conference, which was hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the region is “home to some of our oldest allies.”

Blinken added: “President Obama made it clear that defending them against aggression has been, is and will always remain a core national interest of the United States.”

Discussing Iran’s foreign policy, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid warned that “Iran is a bigger threat to us [the Gulf region] than ISIS,” in reference to the militant group active in Syria and Iraq.

“We must put an end to Iran's interference in the affairs of regional states. We must not underestimate the damage to regional stability caused by Iran's actions in the region. If we are not serious enough about this, I'm afraid we will remain in a state of conflict indefinitely.

“Iran is at a crossroads, and it’s their choice where they can either choose to have a major shift in their foreign policy and move to phase two of fixing their relationships with the world after their nuclear deal and hopefully it will succeed,” Sheikh Khalid added.

Only several hours after he concluded a multilateral meeting in Vienna regarding Syria, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also re-iterated the need to keep Iran’s conduct in the region in check.

“Instability in Iran means instability in the Gulf. The relationship is bad now because of Iran’s policies towards the Kingdom and its interference with Arab states. It is emanating from the East, not the West,” Jubeir said during the conference.

Another key topic discussed was the way forward on Yemen and the possible ending of military operations there. Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition of Arab countries in an air campaign targeting Houthi militias since March.

Jubeir expressed optimism over the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations and said that the conflict there was entering “its final phase.”

On the political front, Jubeir said that the Houthis’ recognition of a U.N. resolution and the re-opening of Yemeni ports by coalition forces were good signs that the country was ready to enter the resolution phase of the conflict.

“Legitimate government forces are now in control of the vast majority of Yemeni territory. There still remain some areas that need to be liberated including Sanaa, but the trend is moving in the right direction,” he said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, the UK’s Special Envoy to Yemen Sir Alan Duncan told Al Arabiya News that the coalition wished to end the military phase of the campaign “as quickly as possible.”

“The only way to solve this now is to get an inclusive process of talks which has to include the Houthis, otherwise there’s no point. We need to try and re-ignite the same principle of the National Dialogue process of 2011 and look at the U.N. resolution 2216 and the handover of big weapons to avoid a free space for terrorists and extremists.”

Jubeir re-iterated that the Houthis are welcome to join future peace talks, but suggested that they should not make up the bulk of the representatives.

“The Houthis and the Yemenis have every right to be part of the Yemen political process, we have said that from the very beginning. The only thing they cannot have is a privileged position because that would distinguish them from other Yemenis and that would not be fair,” Jubeir said.

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