Yemeni Oil Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Plan to Establish Refineries in Shabwa, Hadramout

Yemen Oil Minister Dr. Saeed Al-Shammasi (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Yemen Oil Minister Dr. Saeed Al-Shammasi (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Yemeni Oil Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Plan to Establish Refineries in Shabwa, Hadramout

Yemen Oil Minister Dr. Saeed Al-Shammasi (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Yemen Oil Minister Dr. Saeed Al-Shammasi (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Yemeni Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources, Dr. Saeed Al-Shammasi, expressed the government’s full readiness to resume the export of crude oil and liquefied gas, immediately after the announcement of the expected peace agreement under the auspices of the United Nations, in a way that enhances and supports the state’s general budget.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Shammasi pointed to discussions with Saudi Arabia to help restart the Aden refineries, stressing that the Kingdom’s support during the last period has greatly reduced the burden on the state’s general budget and the import bill.

Al-Shammasi participated in the Future Minerals Forum, which was hosted in Riyadh on Jan. 10-11. He said that Yemen was rich in many minerals that are used in the solar energy and alternative energy industries, such as lithium and silicon.

The minister highlighted the final discussions to establish an oil refinery and an integrated industrial zone in the Al-Dhaba region in Hadramout Governorate, in addition to a domestic gas project in the Masila sector, and studies to establish an oil refinery in Shabwa.

Al-Shammasi refuted news about the withdrawal of OMV from Yemen, indicating that the company has a global trend to shift from exploration and production to specializing in the production of alternative energy and marketing of crude oil

The Yemeni Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources also spoke about many important files, including production capabilities and expected investments.

-Participation in the Future Minerals Forum

Yemen’s participation in the Future Minerals Forum was aimed at presenting the country’s rare and very large mineral resources, Al-Shammasi said, adding: “This year, after a period of about 10 years, during which Yemen did not participate in any exhibitions on a large scale and provide samples of its great mineral resources..., we focused in the conference on some of the minerals that the world needs, especially those used in solar energy and alternative energy industries.”

He continued: “We focused on switching from fossil fuels to alternative energy in order to preserve the environment and humans. This trend is important, especially in light of the discoveries of some materials that are used in these industries, such as lithium.”

-Mineral wealth in Yemen

The Yemeni Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources indicated that his ministry has conducted several preliminary studies of the minerals that are available in most of the liberated areas. He revealed that during the forum, companies applied to establish a cement factory with an investment of $200 million in one of the southern governorates (Abyan, Shabwa, or Hadhramaut).

-Saudi support to restart Aden refineries

Al-Shammasi emphasized that the oil sector was one of the main pillars of the economy and contributed more than 70 percent of the state budget, but has been greatly affected by the war since March 2015.

He revealed advanced discussions with Saudi Arabia to restart Aden’s refineries, which he said constitutes a major priority for the ministry in 2024.

The minister continued: “In 2021, the Kingdom provided about $450 million to support oil derivatives. All of this undoubtedly reduced the burden very significantly on the state’s general budget and the import bill.”

-Foreign oil companies

Al-Shammasi admitted that foreign companies quickly react to any security developments that occur and declare force majeure, but at the same time, he explained that the situation has changed since the liberation of areas in the south, and parts of Marib, Taiz, and Hodeidah.

He underlined that “Yemen still requires the creation of a safe investment environment for these investments, stressing that investors were discouraged to come to a country that does not enjoy security, safety, and political and security stability.

The Yemeni Oil Minister reiterated that the Austrian company OMV has not withdrawn from Yemen, pointing out that it was following a global trend to shift from exploration and production to producing alternative energy and marketing crude oil.

-Readiness to export oil and liquefied gas

Al-Shammasi confirmed that the ministry is ready to export crude oil and gas immediately after announcing any peace agreement in the country, noting that Yemen’s leadership announced that in the first phase of peace, the export of crude oil and gas will be allowed in the first week of the agreement.

“We are ready at any moment for the peace process to begin and for us to be allowed to export crude oil. With regard to gas, we have recently launched a re-maintenance phase and have completed about 80 percent of the repairs of the Balhaf port,” he stated.

Commenting on the recent events that took place in the Marib oil governorate after raising the prices of oil derivatives, the Yemeni minister pointed to the government’s plan to unify the prices of oil derivatives throughout the country.

Al-Shammasi noted that Yemen welcomes all national and foreign investments in the field of oil, gas and precious metals, noting that the ministry was working to promote investment opportunities in all regional and international forums.

He said that final agreements were underway for two major projects in 2024. The first is the establishment of a refinery with an industrial zone in the Al-Dhabah region in Hadramout, with a production capacity of about 25,000 barrels in its first phase, and the second is the establishment of a domestic gas project in the Masila sector.

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.