US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met in New York on Monday to talk about the nuclear deal with Iran as well as the current situation in Yemen.
On Wednesday, a US official speaking on the condition of anonymity said Kerry had asked Zarif for Iran’s assistance in bringing Iranian backed Shiite Houthi groups to the negotiating table for a political settlement.
Answering a question about Yemen in a press availability before the meeting on Monday, Kerry said it would certainly be discussed in his meeting with Zarif as “Iran is obviously a supportive party to the Houthis.”
Houthi groups took Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, in September and have since expanded south.
The Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, wary of the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East, has conducted an air campaign to bomb Houthi targets.
Kerry said on Monday Houthis took advantage of a pause in the air campaign to further their cause rather than use the space to discuss a political solution: “The Saudi shift from phase one into a political phase and humanitarian phase with the reduction of the air campaign was predicated on the notion that people would freeze in place and that you would go to those talks held by the UN and hopefully begin to have a political solution.
“But what happened was the Houthi began to take advantage of the absence of air campaign, moving not only additionally on Aden, but moving in other parts of the country and shifting artillery and taking certain elements of the Yemen army under fire.”
Speaking at New York University on Wednesday, Zarif called for UN talks to end conflict in Yemen to be held at a neutral venue, not unlike the talks on Afghanistan held in Germany in 2001.
Zarif seemed to be in agreement with Kerry’s remarks from Monday, when the Secretary of State said Yemen’s future “should be decided by Yemenis on both sides of the current dispute, not by external parties and proxies.”
“It should be a Yemeni-owned and a Yemeni-operated process. We can facilitate,” the Iranian foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Referring to the Bonn talks which led to the establishment of an Afghan government in 2001, Zarif said: “Yemen should be the same and I think the United Nations has enough experience to lead that.”