GCC leaders pledge reconstruction conference for Yemen after conflict

Peace talks aimed at ending the war will take place later this month.

Saudi Arabian King Salman meeting with Qatari Emir Tamim Al Thani before the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh. EPA
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Gulf Cooperation Council countries on Thursday called for an international conference to be held on reconstructing Yemen once “stability and security” return to the country.

The announcement was made on the final day of the GCC’s 36th summit, held in Riyadh. The six-state bloc also reiterated support for a political solution to Yemen’s conflict and said it would seek to integrate the country’s economy with those of other Gulf Arab states.

The UAE delegation to the two-day meeting was headed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that supports Yemen’s internationally recognised government in its war against Houthi rebels said an archipelago off Yemen’s western coast had been liberated.

The Hanish Islands, in the Red Sea, had been occupied by the Iranian-backed rebels who were believed to have used them to store and smuggle weapons, according to Reuters.

The coalition intervened in Yemen last March, after the Houthis and fighters loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh forced the government to flee the capital, Sanaa. All the GCC states are taking part in the coalition except for Oman, which has played a mediator role between the warring sides.

The rebels have been forced to retreat over the past months from several strategic areas following an offensive by government loyalists backed by coalition troops and warplanes.

Peace talks announced this month are expected to take place in Geneva on December 15. Nearly 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict since March, according to the United Nations.

In their final statement at the end of the summit, GCC states — which include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman — said a political resolution to the conflict should be reached in line with UN security council resolution 2216 and Yemen’s National Dialogue Initiative.

The UN resolution calls for the Houthis to withdraw from areas they occupy, while the National Dialogue is a GCC-backed road map for political reconciliation that was established after the removal of Mr Saleh following Arab Spring unrest in 2011.

Along with Yemen, the assembled Gulf Arab leaders also discussed the conflict in Syria, Iranian interference in regional affairs and rising “hostile rhetoric” towards Muslims and refugees.

The meeting came just days after US presidential candidate Donald Trump made international headlines after calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country.

On Syria, leaders praised the results of talks in Vienna that set the Syrian opposition and regime of Bashar Al Assad on the path towards direct talks and a transitional government and elections within two years. They condemned Iran’s “interference” in the internal affairs of GCC countries and accused Tehran of “inciting sectarian strife”.

The goal to integrate Yemen’s economy with those of the GCC was an indication of how the bloc sees the impoverished country as needing long-term aid and support.

But any movement to integrate Yemen’s economy is not expected to come soon.

“Economic integration is a long-term process, it doesn’t happen over night,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a UAE-based analyst of Gulf politics.

Yemen was a potential candidate for GCC membership but never met the standards for joining, said Mr Abdulla. Another barrier to its membership is the GCC being composed of monarchies while Yemen is a republic, he added.

Still, Mr Abdulla said that Yemen was “associated with the GCC...on many levels, more than any other Arab state”.

The countries that make up the bloc have invested billions of dollars in Yemen through various aid projects over the past decade, only to see much of it lost to corruption and the current war.

“There is a sense of obligation and responsibility for Yemen that has been around since day one,” Mr Abdulla said.

And now that several GCC states have intervened militarily in the country, “I think that sense is now going to be twice as urgent,” he added.

“Fixing Yemen is going to be a priority from now on.”

The 37th GCC summit will be held in Bahrain next year.