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On Yemen, State Dept Tells ICP No Role for Saleh, No Comment on Sudan

By Matthew Russell Lee

WASHINGTON DC, March 26 -- Amid airstrikes in Yemen, Inner City Press on March 26 asked State Department if the US thinks former President Saleh could play any role going forward, and for its position on Sudan participating in the "Saudi coalition" the US supports.

  Jeff Rathke, Director of the State Department's Office of Press Relations, relied about the US Treasury Department sanctions imposed on Saleh on November 10, 2014, and reiterated previous US criticism. From the State Department transcript (video here from Minute 26:49)

QUESTION:  Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press.  I wanted to know what the U.S. thinks of the role of former President Saleh, and do you think that he has any role to play in the negotiations that are trying to be had?  And also, you said repeatedly that the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, and itís said that Sudan is one of the partners and that theyíve offered three air force planes.  And I wanted to know, would the U.S. support Sudanese participation in bombing Yemen?

MR. RATHKE:  So Iíll take the second one first.  We are aware that the Government of Sudan has announced that it is taking part in the actions organized by the Saudis.  Weíre not in a position to confirm the details of or the nature of their participation.  Again, this is a Saudi-organized and Saudi-led coalition, so I donít have more to say on that aspect.

You asked about former President Saleh.  And so we have long made clear our concerns about the obstructive role that former President Saleh plays in Yemen.  He has consistently sought to undermine Yemenís political transition.  This is widely recognized by the international community, which, in fact, sanctioned former President Saleh under UN Security Council Resolution 2140 just a few months ago.  That was in November 2014.  And the reason was for his obstruction of the political transition and undermining the government.

The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned former President Saleh on November 10th, 2014 for engaging in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen.  So our position on him and his role, I think, is quite clear.

  On Inner City Press' question on Sudan, note this is the same Sudanese air force bombing civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

   Inner City Press also asked Rathke about the US restricting Cuban diplomats to within 25 miles of Columbus Circle in New York -- Rathke said this is being negotiated, along with the US' desire for free movement in Cuba -- and if the US will be replacing Russ Feingold as Special Envoy on the Great Lakes.

  I have no personnel announcements, Rathke said, twice.

  Earlier in the day reporters complained about the lack of answers from the International Monetary Fund. Rathke at least kept fielding questions, and had a surprising number of if-asked statements in his binder.

   Inner City Press at the International Monetary Fund briefing on March 26 asked again about the status of the IMF program in Yemen.  From the IMF transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about Yemen. I asked online actually a couple of times ago, and you had said it wasnít helpful but there would be a review in the spring. Now, with these air strikes by Saudi Arabia and Houthiís moving on Aden, what is the status of the IMFís program, and what is the thinking, how are you going to review it?

MR. MURRAY: Thanks for that question. Well, obviously, we are watching the rapidly evolving situation in Yemen carefully and closely at the moment. Given a host of uncertainties surrounding Yemen at this moment, the first review under the Fund supported program is postponed until the situation clarifies.

When it will clarify? Canít say. Certainly, the review mission is postponed. One of our biggest concerns about Yemen is the impact on the poorest there, and the economic reverberations of events. Way too soon to say what those will be, but we are just going to have to keep an eye on the situation.

Inner City Press: Has the IMF had any kind contact with the Houthiís since they have been in contact --

MR. MURRAY: Iím not aware of any recent contact with the Houthiís, certainly not in recent days. I really donít have any recent guidance on that.

   Back on January 22, Murray had answered Inner City Press that while events in Yemen were not helpful, the review was not until Spring. Now it is postponed indefinitely.

  Inner City Press also asked Murray to confirm that the IMF may declined to proceed with Haiti if it continues to subsidize electricity. Murray said he would get an answer to the question and that it would be circulated and inserted into the transcript. Watch this site.

Three days after the UN Security Council convened on Yemen for a rare Sunday meeting on March 22 and issued only a Presidential Statement against outside interference, Saudi Arabia began airstrikes against the Houthis inside Yemen, citing Article 51 of the UN Charter.

   At the US State Department briefing on March 25, outgoing spokesperson Jen Psaki would only confirm that Hadi left his residence -- "voluntarily" -- while at the UN in New York Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq cautioned against increased militarization in Yemen.

  Will the UN Secretariat criticize Saudi Arabia now?

 On March 24, Hadi wrote again to the Council and asked for "the Security Council to issue a binding resolution under Chapter VII inviting all willing countries who wish to to provide immediate support;" he also cited al-Qaeda and Daesh.

  This is not the way Iraq did it.

On March 23 the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia seemed to express this willingness. (On March 24, Saudi Arabia spoke in the UN Budget Committee to say same sex relationship are "morally unacceptable;" Yemen, perhaps because of the pending request, did not vote.)

   Inner City Press on March 23 asked the UN's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: there have been two statements I wanted to ask if there's any response to.  One is by the new Foreign Minister of Yemen calling for a no-fly zone, making this request presumably to the Arab League, and also from the Foreign Minister from Saudi Arabia saying they'll take whatever necessary measures to curb Houthi advance.  So Iím just wondering, Jamal Benomar said there is no military solution and there should be talks, but is there any response by the UN to these two statements? 

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Well, in general, like I said at the start of this briefing, Mr. Benomar did urge all sides in this time of rising tensions and inflammatory rhetoric to appreciate the gravity of the situation and de-escalate by exercising maximum restraint, ceasing all hostilities and refraining from provocation and using violence to achieve political goals.  And that remains our standpoint as a whole. Regarding a request to the League of Arab States, of course, that will be for them to consider

  Call it deferring. 

  After the two-hour closed door meeting of the Security Council, during which Permanent Five members' Permanent Representatives drifted away one by one, no one came out to the UN Television stakeout to speak on the record and apparently little new was said behind closed doors.

  Hours after the UN Security Council scheduled the emergency meeting on Yemen, the US announced:

"Due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the U.S. Government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen.  We have informed President Hadi of this step as part of our close coordination with the Yemeni government.  We will continue to engage the Yemeni people and the international community to strongly support Yemenís political transition.  We also continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and have capabilities postured in the area to address them.  As we have in the past, we will take action to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States and our citizens.

"There is no military solution to Yemenís current crisis.  We urge the immediate cessation of all unilateral and offensive military actions.  We join all of the other members of the Security Council in underscoring that President Hadi is the legitimate authority in Yemen and re-emphasize our support for his efforts to lead Yemen through crisis.  We call upon the Houthis, former President Ali Abdallah Salih, and their allies to stop their violent incitement that threatens President Hadi, Yemeni government officials, and innocent civilians.

"We encourage all Yemeni factions to constructively engage in the UN-led political dialogue to achieve an inclusive power sharing agreement.  No unilateral assertion of authority will succeed in Yemen.  We urge a renewed commitment to a peaceful political transition consistent with the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, the National Dialogue Conference outcomes, and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.

"We are concerned that the well-being of all Yemenis now stands threatened by increasing instability, with extremists trying to capitalize on growing volatility as witnessed in the unconscionable March 20 attacks that killed over 130 Yemeni men, women, and children.  Progress in the political transition process offers Yemen the best hope to address these grave threats.  The United States remains committed to supporting all Yemenis in this endeavor and to aiding those who continue to strive for a peaceful, prosperous, and unified Yemen."

  Five weeks after the last Yemen resolution of the UN Security Council was adopted on Sunday, February 15, now on Sunday March 22 the Council held another emergency meeting on Yemen. Much has changed, most recently airstrikes on Hadi's headquarters in Aden and more deadly bombing of largely Houthi mosques in Sana'a.

  With less than 24 hours notice on March 21 the new emergency Security Council meeting was reported by the UN Spokesperson, Inner City Press, Lithuania, Jordan which requested the meeting, and France the Council's president for March.

  It was said Hadi requested the meeting; some speculated he wants the "Houthi coup" language that was dropped from the February 15 resolution revived. But with the Houthis themselves targeted, how would this play? And if a first round of sanctions didn't stop these developments, would a second round?

Update: Sources tell Inner City Press that UN envoy Jamal Benomar abruptly left Yemen, and that Hadi's goal is to get (more) UN Security Council authorization for military action against the Houthis "and Saleh." But he could already claim to be authorized for that. A Presidential Statement doesn't mean victory on the ground, though...

Update II: a question, of course, is how all this UN Security Council action relates to its P5+1 talks with Iran on the nuclear file. Seems the draft PRST would call on "all member States to refrain from external interference which seeks to foment conflict and instability and instead to support the political transition." ALL member states? Including Saudi Arabia and Qatar? Or only Iran?

  On a cold Sunday in New York, the UN Security Council scheduled a 5 pm vote on a resolution on Yemen. Diplomats rushed in. The Gulf Cooperation Council had submitted a draft with the word "Houthi coup" in it, but the phrase did not survive.

  After the watered down resolution was adopted 15-0, Inner City Press asked Saudi Arabia's Permanent Representative about the threat of new sanctions, given how little previous sanctions on Ali Saleh and two Houthi leaders accomplished - and, does he think the Houthis are working with Saleh? (Video here and embedded below.)

  He replied that both are spoilers, they could work together directly or indirectly. The Gulf Cooperation Council will be continuing to push the Security Council, for example on the house arrest of Hadi and others.

  Jordan's Permanent Representative added that come members did not want the word coup.

 Inner City Press notes that while Hadi consented to US drone strikes, a coup would leave such consent "up in the air."

 After the diplomats left, two different Arabic language channels described what had occurred in entirely different terms: one as a "strong message," the other as "weak."  And so it goes.


 

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