Jeremy Hunt hits out at morally bankrupt opposition on Yemen

Minister calls for Iran to take responsibility for proxies in Yemen

epa07464999 Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leaves after a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London, Britain, 26 March 2019. Media reports state that British Prime Minister Theresa May was dealt another defeat as the government was lost by 27 votes on 25 March 2019, on a plan designed to find out the kind of Brexit deal British Members of Parliament would support as they voted to seize control of the parliamentary timetable.  EPA/NEIL HALL
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British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said those opposed to engagement in the Yemen crisis were offering "morally bankrupt" alternatives to the search for peace.

Mr Hunt offered a detailed critique of the opposition based on three points that underpin British policy in the region.

His position statement set out the reasons why the push to depose the Yemeni state by Iran-backed Houthi rebels could not stand.

It also examined the reasons for using Britain's influence in the region to restore stability.

"First, historical accuracy matters," Mr Hunt wrote. "This war did not begin with a Saudi-led intervention.

"Six months earlier, in September 2014, Houthi rebels, representing no more than 15 per cent of the population, captured most of the capital, Sanaa, and expelled the internationally recognised government.

"Saudi Arabia and its allies began their operation in March 2015.

"Second, there is now a path to peace. The agreement reached in Stockholm in December means that for the first time since 2016, the Houthis and the government of Yemen have held direct peace talks.

"My final point: Britain’s history and our values require us to play our part in making a constructive difference in the Middle East, and our unique links in the region mean that we have the ability to do so."

The Conservative politician, who on Tuesday announced his regret at the departure of veteran Middle East Minister Alistair Burt, said the priority must be to salvage the Stockholm process of peace talks.

To step back, as Labour Party representatives, charity campaigners and activists have urged in strident terms, would be the wrong move.

"That would be morally bankrupt and the people of Yemen would be the biggest losers," Mr Hunt wrote.

"We would have been unlikely to see Stockholm or the ceasefire that is now broadly holding in Hodeidah.

"The right path for us is to continue to employ every channel of influence to urge the parties to keep the obligations they agreed to in Stockholm. The EU, too, has a powerful voice and must use it."

Mark Field, a ministerial colleague, told the House of Commons that Iran, not least as a "state sponsor" of Hezbollah, bore responsibility for keeping the conflict going.

"They are a proxy to the conflict and have been for some years at least encouraging the Houthis," Mr Field added.

In a statement with Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, Mr Hunt repeated that Britain had funnelled more than £770 million (Dh3.73 billion) in humanitarian relief to Yemen and used diplomacy to push for progress in negotiations.

"We have been at the forefront of work towards a political solution to the conflict, leading on two UN Security Council Resolutions and bolstering international support for UN efforts to secure peace," he said.

"Talks in Stockholm in December were a landmark point – the first time that the parties had come to the negotiating table in over two years.

"But there remains a serious risk that this window of opportunity to make progress towards lasting peace slips away.

"We have been clear that a political settlement is the only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and to address the worsening humanitarian crisis.

"We will continue to make every effort to support the UN-led process to get to that solution."