Mohammed bin Salman, a member of the Saudi royal family who effectively rules the country, has told two influential foreign policy figures in Washington that he wants out of Yemen and that he’s OK with the US engaging Iran as long as it’s coordinated in advance and the objectives are clear.
Salman made the comments to Martin Indyk and Stephen Hadley this spring. Indyk was a high-level diplomat during both the Clinton and Obama administrations and Hadley a top adviser to former President George W. Bush. Indyk relayed the conversation to Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States, and the man most responsible for aiding bin Salman’s rise in Washington.
“I think MBS is far more pragmatic than what we hear is Saudi public positions,” Otaiba wrote to Indyk on the morning of April 20. Indyk replied quickly, “I agree on that too. He was quite clear with Steve Hadley and me that he wants out of Yemen and that he’s OK with the US engaging Iran as long as it’s coordinated in advance and the objectives are clear.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever see a more pragmatic leader in that country. Which is why engaging with them is so important and will yield the most results we can ever get out of Saudi,” Otaiba confided.
The messages between Indyk and Otaiba were obtained independently by The Intercept. The exchange was discovered in a cache of correspondence pilfered by hackers from Otaiba’s Hotmail account, which he used regularly for official business.
By Salman’s own account:
1-An outright military victory by the Saudi-led alliance is no longer a realistic possibility, and it is time to bring justice to Yemen.
2-The Saudi-led air campaign failed to regime change Yemen, all while violating the laws of war with impunity. They are still subjecting the people of Yemen to a humanitarian catastrophe — and children are bearing the brunt of it.
3-The Saudi-led air campaign, while devastating to Yemeni infrastructure and civilians, has failed to dent the political will of the Ansarullah-Saleh alliance to continue the resistance.
4-The Saudis failed to provide any evidence to prove any large-scale supply of arms from Iran to the Ansarullah or Saleh forces. This is still being used as pretext to prolong the humanitarian catastrophe.
5-The Saudis have admitted to using internationally banned and Western-made cluster and incendiary munitions on civilian areas.
6-The Saudis backed terrorist groups – including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIL – to actively exploit the changing political environment and governance vacuums in Yemen, while systematically terrorizing anybody who represents a legitimate form of opposition at home.
In effect, if the Saudis – explicitly a member of the royal family who effectively rules the country – are found guilty of all these atrocities and more, they should have everything thrown at them, the full weight of International Law.
They have waged an unjustified bombing campaign that has killed thousands of civilians with US and UK assistance. The UAE is also participating in the war, allied with Saudi Arabia, which is the cradle of Wahhabism, a violent ideology that has inspired horrific attacks on civilians in the Middle East, Africa, the US and a string of European capitals.
Their guilt does not end there. The war on Yemen has sparked mass hunger and a cholera outbreak of historic proportions. Change in attitude, style, or approach does in no way mean they can now shrug off responsibility. In the face of such suffering, the people of Yemen have been prevented from accessing the food, medical supplies and aid they desperately need. Ships bringing vital help cannot get through the ports, which have been blocked off by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
One way or another, the Saudis and their allies, who have committed war crimes and fractured Yemen into a point of no return, will be forced to call it quits. The Saudis repeatedly advertise the backing they are getting from the US and Britain. This has put the UK and US, who have lent, to differing degrees, political and military support to the Saudi-led campaign, in a difficult position, with rights groups accusing them of helping facilitate breaches of International Law by the Saudi air force and of not doing enough to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.
Strange enough, none of the alliance members seem to fear being held to account for violating the laws of war. This more than doubles the responsibility of the Human Rights Council and UN members. They must shake up the war. They need to press the alliance to end the slaughter and the suffering of civilians. They need to hold to account Saudi Arabia and those who are partnering with Saudi Arabia to carry out war crimes, and force them to compensate the victims.