Houthi officials visit Moscow as China asks Iran to stop Red Sea attacks

Commercial shipping in the waterway has fallen by more than 40 per cent since the Yemeni rebels began launching drones and missiles at vessels

A Houthi fighter on the deck of the Galaxy Leader, a cargo ship seized in the Red Sea by the Yemeni rebels in November. Reuters
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Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels have asked Russia to mount pressure on the US and Israel to halt the war in Gaza during a rare visit to Moscow.

The visit comes at a time when China has reportedly asked Tehran to help stop the group's attacks on commercial ships passing through the Red Sea.

The attacks, which the Houthis says are in solidarity with Gaza, have disrupted global trade by forcing many shipping companies to divert their vessels to the longer and costlier route around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

The rebels have continued to launch drones and missiles at ships despite several rounds of US-led strikes since January 11.

A Houthi delegation met Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdano in Moscow on Thursday and discussed the situation in the region, the rebels' lead negotiator, Mohammed Abdul Salam, said on X, formerly Twitter.

They also discussed the importance of intensifying efforts to pile pressure on the US and Israel to stop the war in Gaza.

“Both parties condemned the strikes launched by America and Britain on Yemen,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials have asked their Iranian counterparts to help rein in attacks on shipping by the Houthis, which could harm business relations with Beijing, Reuters reported, citing four Iranian sources and a diplomat.

“Basically, China says: 'If our interests are harmed in any way, it will impact our business with Tehran. So, tell the Houthis to show restraint',” said one Iranian official briefed on the talks.

However, the Chinese officials did not make any specific comments or threats about how Beijing's trading relationship with Iran could be affected if its interests are damaged by the Houthi attacks, the sources said.

While Beijing has been Tehran's biggest trading partner over the past decade, their trade relationship is lopsided.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Beijing “is a sincere friend of the countries of the Middle East and is committed to promoting regional security and stability, and seeking common development and prosperity”.

“We firmly support Middle Eastern countries in strengthening their strategic independence and uniting and collaborating to resolve regional security issues,” the ministry told Reuters.

Houthi leader Abdel Malek Al Houthi said the group would continue to attack ships linked to Israel until aid reaches the Palestinian enclave.

“Our country will continue its operations until food and medicine reach the people of Gaza,” he said.

He said the US-led strikes on his group's missile and drone sites would be counterproductive and would not affect “our will and determination”.

Commercial traffic passing through Egypt's Suez Canal, which links the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, has dropped by 42 per cent in the past two months following the Houthi attacks, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

“We are very concerned that the attacks on Red Sea shipping are adding tensions to global trade, exacerbating [existing] trade disruptions due to geopolitics and climate change,” Unctad chief Jan Hoffman told reporters on Thursday.

Mr Hoffman said more than 80 per cent of the volume of international goods trade was transported by sea.

“Maritime transport is really the lifeline of global trade,” he said.

Updated: January 26, 2024, 8:38 AM