Will Iran Invest in Peace in Yemen?



In December, the UN-sponsored peace talks on Yemen led to a ceasefire between the Iranian-backed Houthi militias and the legitimate government in Aden supported by Saudi Arabia. The ceasefire arrives after years of conflict in Yemen, and it is an important litmus test of Iran’s will to support peace in the war torn country. Iran’s policy in Yemen, driven by conflicting goals, indicates that it will only support the peace process if it guarantees its own security.
Iran has insisted that it backs the UN peace talks on Yemen. This helps in showing the international community that it is a responsible regional actor despite the resumption of US-led international sanctions against it for its interventions in regional countries including Yemen.
Tehran has welcomed the latest ceasefire, and has taken credit for encouraging the Houthis to engage in peace talks. Also, it has supported international calls on Saudi Arabia to end its military operations in Yemen. At home, Iran’s embattled President Hassan Rouhani, appeared before parliament this week to call for fixing Iran’s poor regional relations, another sign that Iran might wish to moderate its interventionist policies in Yemen. To avoid economic stagnation in the wake of US sanctions, Iran’s draft national budget aims to attract investments from Iran’s diaspora, a community that will not return its riches to the homeland unless Tehran is at peace with its neighbors[1].
To signal to both the international community and the diaspora that Iran is a safe place to invest in, Tehran has insisted that it has played a constructive role in trying to bring peace to Yemen. In early February, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with the Houthi’s leaders in Tehran to renew calls for an Iranian peace proposal for Yemen. Iran proposed an immediate ceasefire to encourage Yemeni-Yemeni talks. However, Saudi Arabia rejected any role for Iran to act as a peace broker in Yemen.
By late February, a UN draft resolution attempted to condemn Iran for fueling the conflict in Yemen by being the only state that violated resolution 2216 on Yemen by arming the Houthis with missile technology capabilities. Although earlier UN reports found that there was no evidence that the Houthi missiles used to target Saudi Arabia were from Iran, a follow-up UN report concluded that the missile parts used by the Houthis corresponded to Iran’s missile technology[2].
Had Iran been condemned by a UN resolution, a new wave of international economic sanctions would have hit the country. After Russia vetoed the draft resolution, the UN Security Council passed resolution 2402 that omitted condemning Iran and the findings of the UN report that mentioned the finding of Iranian missile technology in Yemen. Perhaps to show its commitment to peace in Yemen, Iran subsequently embarked on talks concerning its role in Yemen with Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The talks resulted in four meetings, the last of which was held in Brussels on December 10. Hossein Jaberi Ansari, the special assistant to Iran’s foreign minister, led the latest talks to help facilitate Yemen’s peace negotiations that took place in Stockholm last week[3].
Iran hopes to get something in return for supporting Yemen’s peace talks. If it helps in ending the conflict in Yemen, its expectation is that the US will ease its economic pressures on its economy. During the Munich Security Conference held in mid-February 2018, Iran met with the four European countries, and the two sides agreed to hold a second round of talks over Yemen in the spring in Rome. The group’s third round of talks was held in the summer in Brussels. Apparently, Iran engaged in these talks only after the Trump administration vowed to restore sanctions against it for meddling in Yemen and in the affairs of other regional Arab countries[4].
Iran’s latest posturing is unlikely to convince anyone that it holds altruistic goals to restore peace in Yemen. While vouching for peace, Iran’s goal is also to make sure that peace in Yemen will not leverage the US to plan regime change in Iran. A war of attrition in Yemen that embroiled US and Saudi forces was useful for Iranian decision-makers as it delayed plans for regime change in Iran. The US administration says it is open to talks with Iran to resolve their differences and possibly end the sanctions in return for Iran curbing its regional interventions and its ballistic missile program. But, political analysts in Iran are skeptical whether the US Congressional decision this month to withdraw a long-standing commitment to support the Saudi’s military mission in Yemen, and Riyadh subsequently ceasing its military campaign in Yemen, could herald a new era of regional adventurism this time against Iran. Freed from military commitments in Yemen, analysts in Iran argue that Washington could make secret plans in coordination with Arab states that are hostile with Iran to accelerate regime change in Tehran covertly or militarily[5].
As a result, Iran’s role in Yemen will be driven by its own security goals. Iran might work with the international community to restore peace there, but its main goal will be to ensure that its Houthi allies remain powerful enough to challenge Saudi Arabia and the US when required for its strategic interests.

 “Hassan Rouhani Faults Last Year’s Protests as Reason for Sanctions,” BBC Farsi, December 25, 2018, http://www.bbc.com/persian/business-46679035
“Yemen Crisis, Joint Statement of US, Germany, France and UK to Condemn Iran,” BBC Farsi, February 28, 2018; http://www.bbc.com/Persian/world-43223895
“Fourth Round of Talks Held Between Iran and 4 European Countries Over Yemen,” Fars News Agency, December 10, 2018, https://www.farsnews.com/news/13970920000116/چهارمین-دور-گفت%E2%80%8Cوگوهای-ایران-و-4-کشور-اروپایی-درباره-یمن-برگزار-شد
“US Withdrawal from Syria: Consolidating Assad and Betraying the Kurds,” Fararu, December 23, 2018, https://fararu.com/fa/news/384787/خروج-آمریکا-از-سوریه-تثبیت-اسد-و-خیانت-به-کردها; “Why Did the US Leave Syria?” Fararu, December 21, 2018, https://fararu.com/fa/news/384625/چرا-آمریکا-از-سوریه-خارج-شد; “Meaning and Implications of Presence of US Navy Aircraft Carrier in Persian Gulf and US Departure from Syria,” Fararu, December 21, 2018, https://fararu.com/fa/news/384683/معنا-و-مفهوم-حضور-ناو-هواپیمابر-آمریکا-در-خلیج
Editorial Team