French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa said that the Houthis were their own enemies, warning the Iranian-backed group of the growing gap with the Yemeni people. He also stressed that negotiations were in their interest, pointing to a “historic opportunity” to achieve peace in the country.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Safa highlighted some obstacles put in place by the Houthis in the recent peace efforts, especially in the issue of salaries.
He emphasized the presence of a consensus within the Security Council to support the role of the UN envoy to Yemen, and to launch a comprehensive internal political process under the auspices of the United Nations.
Safa - one of the most active ambassadors in the Yemeni file and who has extensive knowledge of the complexities of the crisis - believes that the Yemeni people have the ability to withstand, and the youth were open to the world, unlike the Houthi project, which he described as “reactionary”.
The ambassador stressed that France supports the Saudi-Omani efforts, which provide a favorable environment for the international endeavor, indicating that the Saudi-Iranian agreement had a positive impact on the Yemeni file.
According to Safa, there is no intention to issue a new Security Council resolution on Yemen. He noted that the priority was to revive an intra-Yemeni political process under UN auspices.
He also affirmed that France strongly supports the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, and commends his constant commitment and efforts to achieve peace, especially after the tangible results represented in the decline of violence in the country after the truce that took place in April 2022.
The French ambassador to Yemen explained that the peace process needed more time due to some obstacles on the part of the Houthis, especially in the issue of salaries.
“The process needs some time. There are many issues, including salaries. There are still some problems because of the extremist Houthi group, and negotiations with them are always difficult. I hope that pragmatism within the group prevails over the ideological wing. This is necessary to reach a comprehensive and complete political solution under the auspices of the United Nations,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Safa noted that the peace negotiations were in the interest of the Houthis.
He explained: “The Yemenis know exactly what is happening in their country. They know that the Houthis waged an economic war against legitimacy. This halted oil exports. The people are also aware that the group has gained billions of dollars through the port of Hodeidah and others, while the economic situation in their areas has deteriorated... This means that the gap between the Houthis and the people is growing day by day, and the Houthis’ interest lies in the negotiations.”
The ambassador, however, pointed to the Yemeni people’s resilience.
“When I visited Aden a month and a half ago, where France opened a space for young people, I saw their enthusiasm because they want to communicate with the world and modernity, in contrast to the reactionary Houthi project,” he remarked.
No moderates among the Houthis
According to Safa, the Houthi group is experiencing a factional struggle between pragmatists and ideologues, in the absence of moderates - as he put it.
“The conflicting statements are evidence of the existence of different wings within the group, especially the pragmatic wing as opposed to the ideological wing. I always say that the Houthis are their own enemies because of their ideologues,” he stated.
“Nevertheless, we hope that the pragmatic current within the group will expand. Because they support the idea of negotiations. Ideologues, on the other hand, favor the military option, extremism and war. Therefore, we hope that the pragmatic wing will prevail over the ideological wing for the sake of the country and the people, and for the benefit of the Houthis themselves,” the ambassador told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Safa affirmed that France supports the Saudi-Omani efforts, which he said provide a conducive environment for the international endeavor to resolve the crisis.
“Because of Houthi extremism and intransigence, there are obstacles to achieving peace. We hope, with time, to reach solutions to all issues and establish an intra-Yemeni political process under the auspices of the UN envoy,” he said.
The French ambassador also noted that the Saudi-Iranian agreement had a positive impact on the Yemeni file, hoping that this would push the Houthis towards the right direction and soften their stance.
In response to a question about an intention to issue a new Security Council resolution pertaining to Yemen, Safa indicated that this was not on the table at the present time.
“So far, a new resolution is not on the agenda of the Security Council. Today, the priority is to revive the intra-Yemeni political process under the auspices of the United Nations,” he stated.