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Intel: How Yemen talks may deepen US-EU divide over Iran

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari attends a meeting during consultations on Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 11, 2018. Salvatore Di Nolfi/Pool via REUTERS - RC165FC7BE80

The United States and the European Union are publicly at odds over whether Iran can play a constructive role in Yemen peace talks, further splitting the two allies regarding how best to deal with Tehran.

The Donald Trump administration had asked the UN to reject Iran’s request to have a senior Foreign Ministry official attend this week’s talks in Sweden between President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government and the Houthi rebels, Al-Monitor first reported last week. On Monday, that same official — Hossein Jaberi Ansari — addressed the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, which subsequently praised Iran’s endorsement of the peace talks under the auspices of UN envoy Martin Griffiths.

“This is the result of the dialogue we have put in place with Iran on regional issues,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters after the meeting between Ansari and representatives from Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy. “Iran has used its influence on the Houthis to start discussions in Sweden, under the UN auspices — something we have very much insisted on and supported.”

Why it matters: The European Union has placed the survival of the 2015 nuclear deal, despite the US withdrawal, at the heart of its Iran policy. Mogherini said Monday that the EU’s “full and continued implementation” of the deal served as the “basis for our regional dialogue with Iran” on topics including Yemen, the war in Syria and Iran’s ballistic missile program. She added that an EU-Iran trade vehicle to circumvent US sanctions could be in place by the end of the year.

The Trump administration has taken the opposite approach. It believes that Iran has no positive role to play in Yemen or Syria and that the rest of the world should be united in shunning Tehran. It’s certainly possible that the United States, the EU and the UN all privately agree that having Iran show up at the first round of Yemen talks since 2016 would have been counterproductive. But the hint of public disagreement over their role is but the latest cleavage that the Iranians may seek to leverage to pit the EU against the United States.

What’s next: Griffiths' team today confirmed that a draft proposal for a full “political framework” had been shared with both parties. Mediators continue to press for a decrease in the fighting over Hodeidah, a key entry port for aid, and Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city.

Know more: Read Washington Editor Julian Pecquet’s scoop on the Trump administration’s efforts to ice Iran out of the Yemen talks here.

Julian Pecquet

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