The situation in and around Yemen provokes many questions. There is a complex relationship between those who take part in the conflict and their foreign sponsors. The situation is volatile.
The old internal conflict in Yemen reflects the confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The US formally sides with Saudi Arabia. It provides logistical and intelligence support. The choice is logical. Iran is still perceived in the United States as one of the states making up the «axis of evil». It’s all not that simple. The US is involved in complicated talks on Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration lacks foreign policy achievements. The US troops have not been fully withdrawn from Afghanistan, they actually have to return to Iraq, the «reset» with Russian has failed and the normalization of relations with Cuba and Burma is not enough for two-term foreign policy record. An agreement with Iran could be a significant achievement. Obama wants to improve the relations with Iran the way Nixon normalized the relationship with China. The US administration has great interest in success of talks with Tehran.
Watching the talks proceed, Saudi Arabia starts to believe that Iran may go nuclear. Riyadh perceives the possibility of final agreement as a threat to its national security. The recent round of talks in Lausanne started on March 26 – the day Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against the Yemeni Houthis. Joining in the operation the Saudi allies wanted to challenge Iran. In case of retaliation Tehran could be painted as an aggressor acting in violation of established international order. Thomas Friedman published an interview with President Obama on Iran nuclear issue. The President assured an agreement would not put at risk the security of Israel and US Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf. Obama went as far as to say that internal problems threatened those countries more than Iran, «As for protecting our Sunni Arab allies, like Saudi Arabia, the president said, they have some very real external threats, but they also have some internal threats — «populations that, in some cases, are alienated, youth that are underemployed, an ideology that is destructive and nihilistic, and in some cases, just a belief that there are no legitimate political outlets for grievances».
With US President saying such things the second round of Arab Spring started to loom making Arab monarchies shudder.
Saudi media outlets were enraged. Asharq Al-Awsat is an Arabic international newspaper headquartered in London. It is owned by Faisal bin Salman, a member of the Saudi royal family. It writes, «the Houthi strategy backed by Iran has already failed. There are two reasons for that failure. The first is that the fantasy about the United States switching sides in the Middle East and acknowledging Iran as regional hegemon is just that – a fantasy. That fantasy has been promoted by President Barack Obama who has spoken of Iran as a «regional power» and tried to modulate US policy in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to please the mullahs. However, it is enough to recall that Obama has only 18 months or so to play in that fantasy world. Once he has faded into a footnote in history, the US and European democracies might not endorse a policy designed to hand over the Middle East to the mullahs and their ex-KGB allies in Moscow».
A truer word was never spoken!
Rich Saudi lobby enjoys strong position in the United States. Some believe it to be more influential than the Jewish one.
On March 9, 47 US Republican senators signed an open letter to the Iranian leadership addressed to «leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran» declaring that any agreement without legislative approval could be reversed by the next president «with the stroke of a pen». The letter warned Iran that a deal with Mr. Obama might not stick. «The next President could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen, and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time».
True, lifting sanctions is an issue of paramount importance for Iran. For the sake of reaching this goal Tehran is ready to make concessions when it comes to other issues, like Yemen, for instance. But things look different when you are told directly that the nuclear deal has no chance to be ratified. Now Iran sends its ships to the Aden Gulf. US State Secretary John Kerry says Iran covertly controls the Houthis. According to him, the United States will not let Tehran interfere into the situation in Yemen.
To further complicate things Pakistan refused to take part in the Saudi Arabia-led operation in Yemen. It’s impossible to predict how the events will unravel. The prospects look uncertain.