While Iranian officials have publicly condemned the Saudi Arabian-led coalition against Yemen, diplomats from Iran’s Foreign Ministry have been meeting with regional leaders to find a peaceful resolution to the bombing campaign that is leading to a humanitarian crisis in the country.
According to Hadi Mohammadi in Khorasan newspaper, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani presented a four-step plan during his joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 7. Rouhani called for an end to the bombings on Yemen, preparation on the ground for humanitarian help, “Yemeni-Yemeni negotiations” and talks between the various Yemeni groups and parties in a neutral country. Mohammadi wrote that these statements can be understood to be the first recommendations by Iran to end the crisis in Yemen.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, just having completed marathon nuclear talks in Lausanne, was sent to Oman for “consultations,” according to Mohammadi. Zarif welcomed Oman’s role in addressing regional issues, specifically the crisis in Yemen, and stated Iran’s readiness to cooperate in this regard. Zarif expressed concern about the humanitarian crisis and stressed the necessity of talks between the Yemeni parties. Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi also said that dialogue was the “primary path” to resolve the problems Yemen is facing.
After Oman, Zarif traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan where he met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz, Senate Chairman Raza Rabaani and Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif. In a joint press conference with Aziz, when asked about the Iran-Saudi relationship to Yemen, Zarif said, “This is a domestic Yemeni issue, and the path to a solution is also a Yemeni one.”
Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in a number of indirect conflicts over regional influence, which has escalated sectarian and ethnic hostilities in the region. Saudi Arabia says that their coalition is targeting the Houthi rebels, who they claim are backed by Iran. The Houthis, with help from forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, had toppled the Saudi-backed Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in January 2015. According to the World Health Organization, at least 643 people have been killed and more than 2,000 have been injured since the bombing began.
While Saudi Arabia and Iran have sought to bring Pakistan closer to their positions on Yemen, there has been vigorous debate in the Pakistani media and parliament about how to respond to Saudi's request for combat troops. On April 10, Pakistan’s parliament voted in favor of a resolution that declared that Pakistan “should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis.”
In addition to Zarif’s trips, Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi also traveled to Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon to discuss Yemen. In Lebanon, he met with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and head of parliament Nabih Berri. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein-Amir Abdollahian also spoke on the phone with his Chinese and Russian counterparts about the crisis in Yemen. According to Khorasan, Sarmadi and Abdollahian both discussed the same talking points presented by Rouhani about the need to halt the bombings, facilitate humanitarian help and encourage talks between the various Yemeni groups.
It is uncertain how far Iran’s diplomatic efforts can go. The Pakistani parliament’s decision to stay neutral and encourage a diplomatic resolution seems to have been related to their own domestic concerns, and none of the other countries the Iranian diplomats visited were part of the coalition engaged in the bombings. Yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the Saudi bombing in possibly the strongest comments he’s made against the country. The highest Saudi official to condemn Iran’s regional policies has up to this point been Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal.