Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, publicly pledged his full support yesterday for the Houthi movement in Yemen, and has called for dialogue among Yemeni groups. The announcement came as a Houthi delegation led by chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul Salam visited Tehran yesterday carrying a letter from the group’s leader, Abdul Malek Al-Houthi.
After offering his condolences to Al-Houthi over the recent death of his brother, Badreddine, state television quoted Khamenei as declaring, “I declare my support for the resistance of Yemen’s believing men and women.” He added that the Houthi movement will “establish a strong government” in the country. “A unified and coherent Yemen with sovereign integrity should be endorsed. Given Yemen’s religious and ethnic diversity, protecting Yemen’s integrity requires domestic dialogue.”
Iran’s hosting of and meeting with the Houthi delegation is the first public display of the country’s support for the movement, following years of repeated denials of direct links with the group and the five-year war it has been waging within Yemen. Military and logistical support, in particular, has been denied by Iran, while Saudi Arabia and the internationally recognised Yemeni government have claimed that the Islamic Republic has sent shipments of arms and supplies to the Houthis; the US has supported and confirmed that view.
The conflict, which has been widely perceived as a proxy war between the Saudi-led Sunni military coalition and the Iranian-backed Shia Houthi militia, has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Yemenis and driven their country to the brink of widespread famine.
Iran is not the only country to call recently for dialogue in Yemen. The UAE called for talks last week after the southern city of Aden was subjected to violent clashes and fighting between militias. The Emirates has been part of the Saudi-led coalition throughout the conflict in Yemen, but has recently withdrawn most of its forces and resorted to a more advisory role, putting it at odds with its ally Saudi Arabia.