Sweden's Foreign Minister: Yemen peace talks must be inclusive

Margot Wallstrom says it is for Yemenis to decide what they want their country to look like

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 3, 2019.    Interview with Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström to the U.A.E.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Mina Al-Oraibi
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Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom is calling for inclusive talks in Yemen to bring about a lasting political settlement.

In an interview with The National during her visit to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Ms Wallstrom said "there is no short cut or magic wand to wave" to bring peace to Yemen.

But she said that "political discussions must now include understanding the reality in the south, which makes it more complex, but maybe it is also an opportunity. Other groups must also feel that it is an inclusive process".

Until now, the UN-brokered peace talks led by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths have not included representatives of Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council, who have called for a separate state in the south of the country.

Ms Wallstrom said: "It is for the Yemenis to decide what they want their country to look like. Should it be one country or do they think there will be another separation or a confederation? All of these things have to be put on the table."

She said that the issue of "inclusion is a weak point in many countries. If you don’t do it, you will end up with enormous problems".

"In the political process, inclusion is important, especially inclusion of women," she said. "There has to be a peace dividend for ordinary Yemenis."

Sweden hosted a round of talks on Yemen last year, leading to the Stockholm agreement, which was put in place to secure Hodeidah and to avoid a major military confrontation in the port city. Although an agreement was achieved, the implementation of important clauses remain outstanding.

Ms Wallstrom said that "we knew implementation was fragile, but there is a UN presence. The level of violence has gone down … but there are also things that have not been done, like the exchange of prisoners, which we thought would be easy".

She said at the heart of the delays is a "complete lack of trust in each other. We have to figure out what steps to take to build trust and deliver".

She said Sweden is committed to finding a peaceful resolution in Yemen and seemed optimistic about the role her country can play because "we might have the ear of many of the actors because they know we do not have a hidden agenda. We are not a threat to anybody".

Ms Wallstrom said the humanitarian situation is at the heart of her country’s concerns about Yemen and that "we must think about what the future of Yemen looks like".

The foreign minister arrived in Abu Dhabi after extensive talks in Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

"The message I have after all these meetings is that this war has to stop … and we must prepare for the political process going forward.

"We must insist on implementation and to make it very concrete … prisoner exchange is on the table and maybe we can start with something they can live up to."

The Swedish minister said there were also some "very counterproductive measures" that must be stopped, warning that "on the Houthi side, if there is looting … there will be no more humanitarian assistance".

"If donors see that all the money disappears... this is so counterproductive and we must make it stop. We also have to make sure the money we pledged to Yemen is actually paid."

In the political process, inclusion is important, especially inclusion of women

The Swedish minister’s regional tour came after Ms Wallstrom met her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif last month in Stockholm.

"Iran is now much clearer about their link to the Houthis, so if that has not been acknowledged openly before, I think it was clear this time. They also feel they want to be recognised as having a role in all of this and this becomes a bargaining chip in a bigger conflict, but at the same time their positioning was not aggressive, so maybe it is something we can use," she said.

The fate of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero, which is operated by a Swedish company, was also on the agenda during those discussions.

Ms Wallstrom said: "We are hoping they let the ship go and if they cannot do that immediately, we want the crew to be released."

But, she said, there "is a bigger risk, about the Strait of Hormuz and the region".

Another issue in the mix is Syria, where she said there must be a credible political process.

"We have a very principled view," she said, "that as long as there is no political settlement we will not pay for what others have destroyed".

What a political settlement looks like in Syria remains unknown, but Ms Wallstrom said: "Bashar Al Assad feels he has won this war and, of course, a lot of people see him as a guarantor of security, but he is also seen by millions of people as one who has bombed his own population... there has to be accountability for these war crimes – on all sides."

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 3, 2019.    Interview with Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström to the U.A.E.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Mina Al-Oraibi
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said her couuntry is committed to finding a peaceful resolution in Yemen. Victor Besa / The National 

Last month, Sweden announced it was ending a six-year policy of granting asylum to all Syrians who reached its shores. Although the decision was made by an independent migration authority, Ms Wallstrom said that "with Daesh now defeated, it seems they have come to this decision".

However, she said her country will continue to provide protection for those who need it. "Many Christians still suffer a lot, but this is also part of a bigger debate within the European Union," she said.

On Palestine, Ms Wallstrom repeated her country’s commitment to a two-state solution.

Sweden has recognised Palestine and has urged others to do so.

Asked if it is too late for a two-state solution, Ms Wallstrom responded: "No, because what is the alternative? I have not seen a realistic alternative.

"It does seem more and more distant because what we see as the status quo is not a status quo. It is a consistent deterioration of the situation on the ground – more settlements, more demolitions and more tension."

Regarding the promise of a plan proposed by the United States, Ms Wallstrom said: "The deal of the century has not been presented yet. Maybe it will come … this is at a time when the world was waiting for an American plan, but so far what they proposed is an economic proposal. If it is not linked to a political proposal, how will it be done?

"We cannot imagine a solution without the Americans. What few things have come out are counterproductive, not constructive."

On Afghanistan, Ms Wallstrom said: "People in Afghanistan want to live in peace. They are so tired of war and fighting. What we worry about is that if the Americans and the international community withdraw, everything that was gained will be lost. If the Taliban stop girls from going to school, then what have we achieved? We cannot let that happen."

The Swedish foreign minister repeated her country’s commitment to Afghanistan, saying "our plans are to stay on for some time and make sure this moves in the right direction".

Ms Wallstrom is a known advocate for a "feminist foreign policy", with an emphasis on the rights of women and for female representation at the negotiating table.

She said it would be ideal if the UAE could lead efforts to have women negotiators and mediators in the region. She said "women come with an important perspective" and that "peace deals made with women around the table last longer – that is a fact".

Closer to home, Ms Wallstrom spoke of her grave concern about Brexit.

"We had wanted an orderly Brexit and we regret very much that this is the situation in which the UK will leave the European Union. It is a disaster for all of us.

"In the end, it is a failure of communicating to people both the advantages and shortcomings of EU membership. It is a lose-lose for everybody, not a win-win."