Sheikh Abdullah: UAE will not rule out ground troops in Yemen

The UAE Foreign Minister and his Yemeni counterpart reaffirmed the importance of Operation Decisive Storm.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, spells out the importance of the intervention in Yemen after meeting his Yemeni counterpart Dr Riyad Yassin on Wednesday. Ali Haider / EPA
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ABU DHABI // The UAE will not rule out sending ground troops to Yemen to help reinstate the country’s legitimacy, the Minister for Foreign Affairs says.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed on Wednesday met Yemeni foreign minister Dr Riyad Yassin and the two later reaffirmed the importance of Operation Decisive Storm to restore the country’s leadership.

“We cannot set any limits,” Sheikh Abdullah said. “When talking about the situation in Yemen today, we need to end the crisis in the quickest time possible. We had to intervene militarily. We cannot place constraints between us and our goal.”

On March 26, the UAE joined 10 other nations in a coalition led by Saudi Arabia to conduct airstrikes against Houthi rebels, who staged a coup in the capital of Sanaa in September last year.

In February, the internationally recognised president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, escaped house arrest and set up a provisional capital in the southern city of Aden.

The Shiite rebels and forces loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh spread their campaign south, forcing Mr Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Sheikh Abdullah, who also met the US deputy secretary of state for Middle East affairs yesterday, said that if a coalition had not been formed to intervene, the region’s countries would later regret their inaction.

“We want Yemen to return to the Yemenis,” he said on Wednesday. “Yemen today has been hijacked from the Yemenis, from Arabs, from the region.

“If we as Arabs like to say our origins are from Yemen, we must protect our origins. Some want to complicate this but we did not attack anyone, they attacked us in our homes. If we do not stand by Yemen today, we’ll regret it.”

Sheikh Abdullah said the coalition was cooperating with Yemen’s leadership and would not move without a “green light”.

The UAE sent 30 planes to join the coalition, and their most recent strikes targeted radar stations, rocket launchers, weapons depots and surface-to-air missiles. All fighters returned to their bases safely.

Sheikh Abdullah said that the UAE was a country that promoted peace, but the Houthis’ actions had left no other choice.

Until now, he said, the Houthis were unwilling to engage in any conversation and Mr Saleh was still trying to force his policies on the country.

“Our goal is to find a political solution to save Yemen and the Yemenis,” he said. “If we can reach that today, then good. But unfortunately, the Houthis refuse to respect this.”

Sheikh Abdullah said he hoped more countries would support the intervention in Yemen at the coming vote in the UN Security Council. He said the goal was to begin a conversation and to prevent the Houthi rebels from buying weapons.

When asked about Iran’s influence on the Houthis, Dr Yassin said it had been extensive.

He said that Tehran had tried to intervene in Yemen for a long time. Several years ago, Dr Yassin said, ships sent from Iran to Yemen had been found carrying weapons.

Iran has also sent in spies over the years and increased their numbers recently, he said, and Houthis had been trained in Iran.

“We had hoped Iran would be a country we can respect like any other country, but they have an agenda,” Dr Yassin said.

Sheikh Abdullah said Iran’s influence was not just confined to Yemen, but also Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.

He said that while the UAE would prefer a positive relationship with Iran, that was not possible because the country continued to “spread corruption in the region”.

He stressed that the problem with Iran was not one of sectarianism.

Sheikh Abdullah also discussed the Yemen intervention with Antony Blinken, the US deputy secretary of state who was also visiting the UAE on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Mr Blinken announced that the US would speed up weapons deliveries to the coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, and increase the sharing of information.

He said the Saudi-led coalition was “sending a strong message to the Houthis and their allies that they cannot overrun Yemen by force”.

* Additional reporting by Wam