US Ambassador to Yemen: War Merchants are Getting Richer

US Ambassador to Yemen: War Merchants are Getting Richer

Sunday, 11 March, 2018 - 12:30
US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller (Asharq Al-Awast)
Riyadh - Badr Qahtani
"When I look at the overall situation in Yemen, there is an Iranian ambition, in which Tehran is looking for a foothold in Yemen, and I think it is very logical that Saudi Arabia sees this as a problem for Iran's ambitions," US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller described the issue of the conflict in Yemen.

He did indicate however that he believes there aren't just two parties involved in Yemen's war, rather a group of parties competing for absolute authority over the country.

On March 4, the ambassador came into Courtyard by Marriott in the Riyadh's Diplomatic Quarter for an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper during which he reviewed four years of detailed follow up of Yemen's situation.

Washington's Efforts for Solution

Discussing role of US in pushing for a solution, the ambassador indicated that this year brings more opportunities.

"We have an impact on the legitimate government, and I think we can use this influence, as well as technical means to help legitimacy achieve this role successfully," he said.

Tueller stated that if US can help important institutions such as the central bank and the Ministry of Finance to play an independent role not affected by politics, it will help the country.

If one were to watch Houthis' advertisements, they claim that everything happened because of Saudi Arabia, thus, "I believe that it is important to shed light on two important issues: humanitarian and economic," he indicated.

Tueller explained that there are new elements in the country exploiting very important parts of the economy and are getting richer every day denying people their salaries.

"The problem is financial corruption in Houthis-controlled areas in the north, as well as areas dominated by legitimacy," said Tueller adding that who wants to help legitimacy must make sure the government's performance is better than before.

The other aspect affected by the conflict is that the Yemeni economy is dependent on the export of oil and gas, as well as remittances sent by Yemenis abroad, mainly from Saudi Arabia. Yemeni Riyals exchange rate decreased which made it even more difficult for importers to bring in merchandise and oil.

"I think again if we can work with our partners to help legitimacy improve their performance and meet the challenges, even if the conflict persists, this is a positive thing for the country," Tueller stressed, adding: "that this will give Yemeni citizens the feeling that the government is actually working for them."

The US Diplomat admitted that during his only year until now, he wanted to give Houthis the credit for wanting to fight the corrupt elite in Yemen. But that wasn't fulfilled.

"They turned out to be worse than the corrupt elite they claimed they wanted to fight," said Tueller.

The Ambassador believes that Yemen is a country that does not deserve to be poor.

The Coalition and Counter-terrorism

Tueller confirms the cooperation between the US and the coalition countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in combating terrorism in Yemen.

"We worked with them to get rid of the terrorists," he said, adding that they had worked with Saudi Arabia and UAE to train and provide equipment and support to Yemeni forces to get rid of al-Qaeda.

The ambassador voiced his deep concerns about Iran's exploitation of Yemen when asked about fears that Iran's project represented by Houthis become another version of al-Qaeda, similar to what happened in Afghanistan.

"Of course I have deep concerns. This is an area in which Iran wants to exploit Yemeni society, and some isolated regions of the world as well," Tueller stated.

Economic Development and Aid

We fully discussed how Yemen doesn't deserve to be the poorest country in the Middle East.

The country has been weakened within government and military institutions, yet there are people who are working seriously and the country has borders with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well as the Red Sea, the coast and Bab al-Mandab Strait, which could all help the country flourish, explained the ambassador.

"The thing is there are leaders and extremists who want to exploit the country against the poor," he pointed out.

Tueller recalls that he was concerned when the Saudi-led military coalition was first formed in 2015, where he believed it would "have a negative impact and prolong the war in the country."

However, he understood the importance of Yemen for Saudi Arabia, and thus it cannot ignore the Yemeni file.

"If the military issue is important to Saudi Arabia, it is equally important for the kingdom and its allies that Yemen is stable and prosperous. Otherwise, Saudi Arabia will find itself dragged into battles and confrontations inside Yemen," Tueller told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The US diplomat said his country welcomed Saudi Arabia's "renewed efforts in the humanitarian and economic situation of Yemen."

When asked about what should be expected of the new envoy, the ambassador began by praising former UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed for his dedication in work and welcomed the new envoy. He admitted that there is no "magic wand" that could solve the issue.

The core of the problem is that the struggle in "Yemen is the power struggle between different Yemeni parties."

"I am optimistic that we will see progress in 2018, not because there is a new UN envoy, but I hope that the parties have realized that going on with such a conflict is really destroying the country and their future in living within it," Tueller warned.

Parallel Efforts

When asked if the United States supports any initiatives, principles or preparations for UN efforts, Tueller indicated that such efforts are encouraged and can be useful, especially if there are international players involved who have contacts with the legitimate government, Houthis or Saleh's loyalists.

If the new UN envoy succeeds in persuading the parties to return to negotiations, this will be very useful to him, he indicated.

Techniques of Ould Cheikh's Successor

The ambassador believes UN Envoy exerted all possible efforts to meet and discuss with Houthis, but in the end if Houthis seek Ould Cheikh's support to back Iran' s dominance, they will not find sympathizer in this job.

Ambassador Tueller concluded that if Houthis have more political maturity than before, and if they are ready to offer concessions then it will be a good opportunity for a solution.

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