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Yemen and Iran's Role in Regional Crisis Management

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Iran and the world powers are busy drafting a final nuclear agreement that, hopefully, will be finished by the July deadline. That would spell the end of Iran's nuclear crisis, which has been a major source of tension in the Middle East. The peaceful dividend of the final nuclear deal can hardly be exaggerated. After over a decade of relentless tension surrounding the nuclear issue, it is a safe bet that the successful resolution of this vexing crisis will contribute to the region's need for peace and tranquility. Also, this may usher a brand new chapter in Iran's role as a bastion of regional stability that is determined to play a greater role in regional crisis-management. In fact, the Islamic Republic is not a stranger to this role, in light of past episodes where Tehran has mediated conflicts in its vicinity. Case in point, during the 1990s Iran was instrumental in mediating the internal conflict in Tajikstan as well as the inter-state conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. After 9/11 and U.S.'s invasion of Afghanistan, as is well-known, Iran played a key role in international efforts to create a peaceful power transition in Afghanistan, thus avoiding a bloodbath in Kabul. Iran's current foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was then Iran's ambassador to UN was directly involved in the Afghanistan negotiations, i.e., a precious experience that forms a background to Zarif's current bid to end the crisis in Yemen. This brings us to Zarif's letter to UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, dated April 17, 2015, which lays out a four point peace plan consisting of the following:

1. Ceasefire and an immediate end to all foreign military attacks;
2. Unimpeded urgent humanitarian and medical assistance to the people of Yemen;
3. Resumption of Yemeni-lead and Yemeni-owned national dialogue, with the participation of the representatives of all political parties and social groups;
4. Establishment of an inclusive national unity government.

Already, Saudi Arabia's announcement on April 22nd -- that their air campaign against the Yemen rebels is now over and has evolved into a new phase aimed at internal peace in Yemen -- can be fairly interpreted that the first point in Zarif's plan is being slowly realized, optimistically speaking. Once the bombs stop falling completely, the stage will be set to implement point (2), which addresses the tremendous humanitarian needs of war-ravaged Yemen. Simultaneously, serious mediation efforts are needed in order to bring points (3) and (4) to fruition. 

One possibility is through a special committee by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which is currently chaired by Iran. A high level NAM committee on Yemen can be formed quickly, which might then solicit the assistance by Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), which has a long track record for conflict mediation in Central Asia-Caucasus. A joint NAM-OSCE mediation effort aimed at creating the foundation for a new national political dialogue in Yemen makes perfect sense, followed by inputs by UN's Peacebuilding Commission, which is well-funded and suitable to "post-conflict" institution-building.  

But, such mediation efforts can only succeed if all the stakeholders in the Yemen crisis are included and the past mistakes, e.g., the exclusionary summits on Syria, are avoided.   Both Iran and Iraq should be included in these efforts, given their proximity and sensitivity to the fate of Yemen's Shiites. 

In light of the above-said, it is conceivable that Foreign Minister Zarif who in 2001-2002 played a crucial role in terms of shaping the post-Taliban political order in Afghanistan, may soon find himself engaged in a similar gambit on Yemen. Determined to showcase Iran's stability role and constructive engagement with its neighbors and 'near neighbors', the Rouhani administration is apt to use the Yemen conflict as a litmus test of its prudent foreign policy orientation. The big question is, of course, if Iran's Saudi rivals are prepared to reciprocate Iran's initiative?

*Kaveh Afrasiabi, PhD, is a former political science professor at Tehran University and the author of several books on Iran’s foreign policy. His writings have appeared on several online and print publications, including UN Chronicle, New York Times, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Journal, Harvard International Review, and Brown's Journal of World Affairs, Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Mediterranean Affairs, Nation, Telos, Der Tageszeit, Hamdard Islamicus, Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Global Dialogue.

More By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi:

*U.S. Congress Torpedoes the Iran Deal: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/U-S-Congress-Torpedoes-the-Iran-Deal.htm

*Iran and the 2015 NPT Review Conference: Disarmament: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-and-the-2015-NPT-Review-Conference-Disarmament.htm

*‘Oil Conspiracy’ Theory and Its Critics: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/-Oil-Conspiracy-Theory-and-Its-Critics.htm

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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