Yemeni president warns of threat from armed groups

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In an interview with Al-Hayat, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi speaks about the results of the National Dialogue Conference, Gulf support for Yemen and Iranian interference in the country.

It's not easy to be the Yemeni president. Yemen, which was once known as "happy Arabia" [Arabia Felix], is an inherently difficult country, and Yemenis resemble Yemen. Furthermore, it is not easy to be the one who succeeds former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who used to repeat at the end of his lengthy reign that "ruling Yemen is like dancing on the heads of snakes."

When Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi assumed the presidency, he seemed as if he had received a ball of fire. There was a revolution that constituted a part of the "Arab Spring," albeit with a Yemeni flavor. There was a sharp division in society and there had been an awakening of regional demands, sectarian sensitivities and a split in the army. Cannon barrels were facing one another, prepared to sink [the country] into a long and devastating civil war. 

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative saved Yemen from sliding into what could have been "worse than the Syrian suicide." The new rule took the road of dialogue and recovered the military institution from individual, tribal and regional loyalties. The trek is toilsome and appears long. Al-Qaeda set off from its strongholds and leveled painful blows. The decision to divide the country into six federal regions did not convince advocates of independence in the south, nor did it convince those calling for a "Houthi state." The Yemeni president says that Iran's fingerprints are clear in both places. 

President Hadi does not like interviews with the press, perhaps to avoid pouring oil on the fire. But he agreed to meet with Al-Hayat on the sidelines of the Arab summit in Kuwait.

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The text of the interview follows:

Al-Hayat:  President Hadi, there is no doubt that you assumed responsibility of the country in extremely complex conditions, and you took concrete steps in terms of bringing Yemen to safety and laying the foundations for a new era. After more than three years since the outbreak of an acute crisis, do you think that Yemen has surpassed the stage of danger?

Hadi:  Certainly. Yemen has overcome many of the dangers that nearly led it into a long civil war. And we can say today that the country has recovered a lot of the requirements of security and stability. This, however, does not mean that the danger has ended completely. There are still violent armed groups that pose a threat to the security and stability of Yemen, especially since they are supported from abroad. But it should be noted that Yemenis have renounced violence and resorted to dialogue, and that any violent projects will find nothing but rejection from the Yemeni people. Those who support these projects should put aside their arms, surrender their heavy weapons to the state, and join the majority of Yemenis in their inclination toward dialogue, peace and building a modern civil state. 

Al-Hayat:  When do you expect the remaining steps of the transition process to be completed, leading up to elections?

Hadi:  Now that we have formed a committee for drafting the constitution, we can say that the countdown has begun for the end of the transitional phase. We hope to complete a referendum on the draft constitution before the end of the year. 

Al-Hayat Despite the completion of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) and the agreement to write a new constitution, the Southern Movement — or factions in it — still have a presence on the ground and reject the results of the NDC. They uphold [their demands] for the secession of the south. Could this rejection continue and become an obstacle to implementing the outcomes of the NDC and applying the new form of state?

Hadi:  No one [faction] can claim to represent the south. Some factions of the Southern Movement contributed to the NDC, while others boycotted it. The contribution of participants played a big role in the success of the dialogue, especially in relation to the southern issue, which achieved at this conference what it was not able to achieve through the Unity Agreement or the [1994] Document of Pledge and Agreement. The gains that have been made by citizens of the southern provinces in the NDC have brought [their cause] back into consideration, and equated to a victory over grievances of the past era. Therefore, we hope that those who boycotted [the NDC] realize this, and we hope that they will be realistic and step up to join the political process supported by the international community, the region and the whole world. 

Al-Hayat:  There have been many concerns regarding the introduction of a state comprising federal regions, in light of social disparities and existing divisions. This has led some to believe that the division of the country into federal regions is merely a first step in the process of partition, and at best will lead to a struggle of a new type over resources and wealth. How do you respond to such concerns?

Hadi:  The regional system is what will maintain the unity of Yemen. We should realize that centralization is what harmed the unity [of Yemen] and almost destroyed it, had the peaceful youth revolution not come at the appropriate time. [This revolution] re-introduced hope regarding the possibility of correcting the course of Yemeni unity. This is what the NDC was keen to achieve, through ratifying a federal system that will strengthen and deepen unity. Many countries in the world are based on such a system, and we find that it is unified, developed, advanced and rich. 

Al-Hayat:  What are the grounds upon which the division into six regions was based? And why was the proposal for a two-region system, which was supported by the Socialist Party, not adopted? Did the latter proposal really pave the way for the separation of the south, as its opponents claimed?

Hadi:  The six-region [system] was chosen to strengthen national unity and distribute power to a reasonable number [of regions], which allows regional governors and their local governments a chance for success in managing the regions and their provinces. Moreover, these regions will allow for competition in the areas of development, economy and investment, among others. We in the Regions Committee avoided the two-region proposal in response to demands from many residents of the southern provinces, particularly in the eastern region. 

Al-HayatWere you in direct contact with [former South Yemen President] Ali Salem al-Beidh, either before or after the start of the NDC?

Hadi:  There was no direct or indirect contact with him. 

Al-Hayat What about the rest of the southern leaders abroad, such as Ali Nasser and Haidar al-Attas? Is it possible for them to have any role in the future of Yemen under the federal system? 

Hadi:  Those Yemenis residing abroad adopted a position against the former regime. There is no longer anything preventing them from returning home at the various levels of leadership. We hope to see everyone in Yemen participate in building a modern civil state. 

Al-Hayat:  The UN Security Council issued Resolution 2140 and formed a committee under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to impose sanctions on parties impeding the political transition process in Yemen. In your opinion, what is the purpose of such a resolution, as some consider it to merely be placing Yemen under international guardianship?

Hadi:  This resolution is a natural completion of two previous resolutions (2051 and 2014), and it is necessary to support the outcomes of the NDC and the completion of the transitional phase. It was important to impose many sanctions on those who obstruct [the transition process], yet we hope that no Yemeni will practice such a negative role. The international support for Yemen at this stage does not constitute any kind of guardianship, because national decision-making is in our hands as Yemenis. The issuance of UN Resolution 2140 comes to strengthen the international community's partnership with us in completing the transitional phase and transitioning to a new phase. 

Al-Hayat Who are the parties or persons obstructing [this process] and what kind of obstruction is taking place, given that all parties engaged in the dialogue and helped to traverse important stages thus far in the transition process?

Hadi:  The Sanctions Committee will determine the obstructors, whether individuals or political or social parties. The committee will do this in light of undeniable established evidence and facts. 

Al-HayatCould the imposition of any sanctions on any party lead to adverse reactions that worsen the situation and fuel chaos? 

Hadi:  We hope to not reach the stage where the Yemeni people — even before the international community — are forced to sanction those who obstruct their new path. And we hope that those with bad intentions reassess themselves, starting now. 

Al-Hayat:  How do you view the accusations launched by the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) against the General People's Congress (GPC), accusing the latter of being an obstacle to the realization of the transitional phase?

Hadi:  We have not heard anything about accusations leveled by the JMP against its partner in rule, the GPC. The transitional phase is almost complete, thanks to the responsible partnership between the two sides, whether in government or in the presidency of the NDC.

Al-Hayat:  What about the conflict raging in the northern areas of the country between the Houthi group and tribes loyal to the Islah party and the Salafists? Does the state have a plan to control these confrontations and hostilities that recently extended to the outskirts of the capital Sanaa? Why did you merely send presidential mediation committees? 

Hadi:  We wanted to work via presidential mediation committees in order to avoid any clashes and to confirm that the state, in the new era, prefers to use dialogue and avoid bloodshed in solving problems. But at the same time we emphasize that, in the end, the state will not abandon its role in establishing security, stability and peace using appropriate methods. Armed parties must realize that they cannot be stronger than the state, even if they imagine the country to be in a state of weakness. The Yemeni state can be patient, cautious and careful to avoid the use of force, because in the end the victims are Yemenis, regardless of what party they come from. Moreover, we have come to the conclusion that solving problems by force is a failed method. Therefore, we will avoid resorting to force as much as possible, but violent groups should beware the "wrath of patience." 

Al-Hayat Is there a danger that these confrontations will turn into a long-term sectarian and factional conflict?

Hadi:  Yemen is far removed from any sectarian or factional conflict. Yemenis have gotten over these sensitivities, and we must understand that the fighting that is occurring in some regions is a political conflict par excellence. It is not a religious or sectarian conflict, despite the attempts of some to portray it as such. 

Al-Hayat:  Is it possible that the state will resort to force to confront parties that insist on adopting violence? And what is preventing the state from regaining administrative and security control of the areas of conflict in Saadah and Amran? 

Hadi:  Security and stability are a matter of time. The heavy legacy of conflict we have inherited requires some time to overcome it. Do not forget that we fought six wars with the Houthis in the previous era, and the repercussions of these wars still persist. The Yemeni people no longer want to enter into any conflicts, and my job as the leader of the people is to avoid such conflicts. We will work very hard to establish security and stability through dialogue and adherence to the option of peace. 

Al-Hayat Aside from the Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation Law that is expected to be issued soon, do you think there is a possibility you could hold reconciliation meetings between opposing political, tribal and partisan figures, to end the state of raging hostilities? 

Hadi:  If intentions are good, everything becomes possible. All the opponents sat together in the NDC and transformed into comrades, friends and brothers, and they succeeded in bringing [the country] to safety. The experience at the NDC is what makes us optimistic about the potential success of any bilateral dialogue between parties that disagree on some things. 

Al-Hayat:  Did the process of restructuring the army achieve the intended goal, so we can say that no political or partisan forces are present within the military? 

Hadi:  The process of restructuring the army was a great success in its first phase, and succeeded in disarming all fuses and conflicts within this great national institution. It could be argued that there is no longer room for a political or partisan presence among the military. We will soon complete the second phase of this restructuring, which will make the army a neutral national force working to protect the homeland, not the authorities, as was the case before. 

Al-Hayat:  What guarantees are there to ensure no authority is able to control the joints of the army in the future? 

Hadi:  It is no longer possible to repeat what occurred in the past era. The army has been liberated from any regional, tribal or familial hegemony, and such a situation will not happen again. 

Al-Hayat Despite the military's ability to liberate southern cities and regions from the grip of al-Qaeda in mid-2012, the group's activities and attacks have become more fierce. It reached the point where the most vital regions of the capital Sanaa were targeted, such as the attacks on the Defense Ministry compound and the central prison. Do you think that this was due to the cohesion and strength of al-Qaeda, or to the weakness of the state apparatuses in facing it?

Hadi:  There is no doubt that the weakness affecting the security services in the recent past has led to an apparent strengthening of al-Qaeda. But the security services are recovering slowly but surely. Moreover, we have not announced many successes achieved in the confrontation against al-Qaeda's terrorism. If not for these successes, the organization would have spread its terrorism everywhere. 

Al-HayatTo what extent has al-Qaeda breached the security services? And are there political or social figures helping the group spread its activities, providing logistical support to its leaders and helping to conceal its locations?

Hadi:  There has been no breach of the security services on the part of al-Qaeda. The opposite is true, and as I said, security work is getting better. 

Al-Hayat What is the extent of cooperation with Washington on this file specifically? And what about the objections voiced by the Yemeni public to the airstrikes being carried out by US drones, especially after parliament called on you to put an end to such raids, which from time to time claim the lives of civilians?

Hadi:  Yemen has a partnership with the international community in the war against al-Qaeda, and there is excellent cooperation with the United States in this field. This was also the case before I arrived to power. Regarding the drones, we are forced to use them to limit the movements and activities of al-Qaeda. They have greatly contributed in this regard, despite the limited errors that have occurred and which we regret. We hope that the Yemeni people understand this, because we found that our losses during [the period in which] we used Yemeni planes were much greater. And our military experiences proved this in the battles in Abyan province in 2011. Moreover, al-Qaeda has frustrated even NATO, so what potential does Yemen have, where all types of investment have been halted?

Al-HayatYemen has previously accused Iran of interfering in its internal affairs, and you have made declarations in this regard on more than one occasion. Does this intervention still exist, and if so, to what extent? How did you respond to it and might we see other escalatory steps to counter it? What does Sanaa ask of Tehran? 

Hadi:  Unfortunately, Iranian interference still exists, whether by supporting the separatist movement or some religious groups in the north of Yemen. We asked our Iranian brothers to review their mistaken policies toward Yemen, but our demands did not bear results. We do not have any desire for escalation with Iran, but at the same time we hope that it will take its hands off Yemen, and works to establish brotherly, amicable relations and stops supporting all armed currents and small projects. 

Al-Hayat What is Yemen's position on the Saudi declaration deeming the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist groups? And is there any kind of coordination between the two countries in this regard? 

Hadi:  Our brothers in Saudi Arabia have an estimation of what they see as fit for their security and stability, and we fully coordinate with them regarding security aspects. The security of the kingdom depends on Yemen's security, and vice versa. 

Al-HayatIn light of the difficult economic conditions experienced by Yemen, are donor countries fulfilling their pledges? And how effective are the government's plans to use these grants? 

Hadi:  Donor countries have pledged a lot, and we appreciate their enthusiasm and support for Yemen, but we hope they act quickly to fulfill these pledges. There will be a meeting soon in Riyadh with the donors in the Friends of Yemen Conference, and we have high hopes that they turn their pledges into reality to lift Yemen out of its deep economic crisis. 

Al-Hayat:  You established compensation funds for victims of the conflict, reparations and the return of those who have been removed from their jobs, including southern soldiers and civilians. How will you provide the necessary backing for these funds?

Hadi:  Donor countries and friends of Yemen committed to supporting these funds in the operational mechanism of the Gulf Initiative. We hope that these commitments are fulfilled in the coming stage. 

Al-Hayat:  In light of the current situation, how do you straighten Yemeni-Saudi relations? And how do you assess Saudi Arabia's role in standing by Yemen, especially in the last three years of the current crisis? What do you seek from the Gulf states — led by Saudi Arabia, the sponsor of the Gulf Initiative — in order to overcome the economic, political and security challenges? 

Hadi:  Any words we say will not be enough [to thank] our brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, first and foremost my brother King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. What they provided in the recent period has had the largest role in lifting Yemen out of its crisis and [helping it] overcome its ordeal, whether in terms of political, economic, security or military [support]. Were it not for the brotherly position of our brothers in Saudi Arabia and the GCC, Yemenis would not have achieved this great success in a political settlement and the NDC. We hope that our brothers continue to support Yemen in the same spirit we have come to expect of them in the recent period.

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Found in: yemeni opposition, saudi arabia, national dialogue conference, gcc initiative, gcc, abed rabbo mansour hadi
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