Iran does not appear interested in a long-term peace settlement in Yemen, a US State Department official has told The National.

Timothy Lenderking, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs, spoke on Sunday at the third UAE Security Forum at New York University Abu Dhabi, where officials and policymakers met to address the challenges of peace and reconstruction in Yemen.

Iran has been “keeping the flames [of war] stoked and the Saudis bogged down in the conflict” for years, Mr Lenderking said.

Iran is believed to have played a key role in strengthening Yemen’s rebel movement by sending advanced weapons and military advisers. Iran “enables the Houthis to menace the Saudi border… and their territorial integrity,” Mr Lenderking told The National on the side-lines of the conference.

Mr Lenderking’s comments came as a Yemeni government delegation and Houthi rebels met face-to-face for the first time at peace talks in Sweden on Sunday.

The optics of handshaking is important, said the official, “but even more important is the engagement. Let’s not overestimate chances of breakthrough, but there has been good progress.”

The conference in Abu Dhabi focused on Yemen’s post-war future, in particular stabilisation, reconstruction and development.

But any move towards elections should be undertaken cautiously, said the Chairman of Yemen’s Justice and Building Party.

“We’ve seen how rushing into elections throws society back into conflict,” said Mohammed Abulahoum.

Instead, the country needs to re-establish security and prioritise grassroot reconstruction projects, Mr Abulahoum said. “We can’t focus on the mega projects and not those that will… have an impact on the average citizens.”

Mr Abulahoum, a leading politician and social figure in Yemen, had arrived in Abu Dhabi directly from Stockholm, where he was participating in the talks.

The Yemeni government needed to shoulder some responsibility for the country’s situation and for allowing the Houthi rebellion to grow in strength, he said.

“The challenge right now is to learn from the [past] experiences… when everybody was busy in the national dialogue, talking about the constitution, we never focused on the problems that people had,” he said, referring to the state of the country before its descent into civil war. “Even the money that the donors committed to Yemen – about eight billion – was not absorbed or allocated to serious projects.”

Even as this week’s peace talks offer a glimmer of optimism that Yemen’s warring factions might reach a cessation of hostilities, the scale of reconstruction efforts offers an intimidating prospect to the government and humanitarian agencies.

The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, where as many as 20 million are food insecure. The UN refugee agency said on Friday there were nearly 1,500 civilian casualties between August and October.

Lise Grande, the UN Resident Coordinator in Yemen, said the UN was focusing on a new approach to stabilisation. “We have in many countries tried to stabilise and we have not done it as effectively as people expect us to,” Ms Grande said during the forum.

The UN intends to focus on rapid and simple stabilisation in Yemen, she said, prioritising worst affected areas and projects certain to have a positive impact on the community.

Source » thenational