Interviewed by: Rajah Paddy, For National Yemen.
The European Union Ambassador to Sana’a Michele Cervone d’urso Said the main reasons why President Saleh signed the Gulf Initiative and its operational mechanism are that the international community united towards what is happening in Yemen and sent a letter that there is a need for a peaceful transition of power in Yemen, and that Saleh listened this time to his party, the people and the international community at the time of signature.
In a lengthy interview with Al-Sahwah Newspaper, the EU ambassador, who is one of architects of the agreement, spoke about the next phase after signing the Initiative, the role of the European Union and the international community in monitoring the implementation process, and the actions all will take in the event implementation of the Initiative and its mechanism were obstructed.
At this dialogue, conducted last Sunday; a day before the Security Council meeting on Yemen, d’urso answers questions raised by Yemenis on granting Saleh immunity, restructuring the army, functions of the security and military committee, and other issues. Here are details of the interview.
Welcome Mr. Ambassador to this interview. Starting immediately with the talks about signing the Gulf Initiative, how do you in the European Union see this signature? What are the chances of its successful interpretation on the ground?
I think that the agreement is a very important initiative on which all have worked throughout past six months. It is a power transmission negotiated between the ruling party and the opposition, taking into account the conversations the two parties, and above all, it opens the way for the political process in Yemen, because most of Yemeni people are tired of the political standoff that has now lasted more than six months. With regard to the Yemeni people, a very large segment does not have any political affiliations but also wants a political solution.
This agreement, which is greatly supported regionally and internationally, will open the door for a political solution in Yemen. We now have a roadmap for the next three months and also for the next two years. It is also important that both parties implement the initiative with sincere intentions, and we will closely monitor the implementation of the agreement.
You said that you will closely monitor the implementation of the agreement, is there a mechanism for monitoring? How the monitoring will be carried out? And what role the EU will play in this monitoring?
In the Gulf Initiative, the EU, the GCC and the United Nations as well as the five permanent members of the Security Council are witnesses to the agreement and were asked also to monitor the implementation of the agreement. If the implementation process goes on smoothly, there will be no direct involvement from us. However, if there is any party or individual trying to hinder the implementation, we will hold them responsible for obstructing the agreement implementation. For example, the first of priorities mentioned in the mechanism is to hold an early presidential election – a decree was issued by Vice President on this topic and there will be early elections on February 21 of next year. This is a great accomplishment for Yemeni revolution. The second priority is to nominate a prime minister suggested by the opposition. The third priority, from the viewpoint of time, is to establish a military and security committee. This committee must be established five days after the agreement comes into force, which means that a military commission must be formed this week.
As you know, fighting is still ongoing in Arhab and Nihm but also in Taiz, therefore two parties need to sit for negotiation and to prevent any escalation. This is an important part of the Gulf Initiative. We are monitoring implementation closely, and the concerned parties say they are committed to the agreement, but what we need is not just words and intentions; we need to see concrete actions for implementation and to move into a new stage of Yemeni history.
You said that if the Initiative implementation process did not go smoothly, you would hold the involved party accountable. Is holding the involved party accountable part of what you do, or that would imply other procedures?
At their last meeting, the foreign ministers of EU countries were very clear and said that they would consider actions against any person who causes a political standoff, and this has not changed even after signing the agreement. We are concerned that some parties may try to hinder implementation, but we, as well as our other partners in the international community, will be vigilant. The council will constantly follow the situation in Yemen, and it expects that the agreement will be implemented by all parties.
Some analysts believe that the threat to impose sanctions on certain individuals helped in reaching this agreement. Being one of the key actors in the conclusion of this agreement, what do you think about that?
We have supported this agreement, but it was negotiated between Yemenis and I think that the negotiation process was good; in one side we had Vice-President Hadi, Qirbi and Dr. Iryani, at the other we had Basendwah, Abdulwahab Al-Ansi, Aledoma and Dr. Yasin Saeed Noman. These negotiations have not started from scratch over the past few weeks, but they built on negotiations that have taken place since March. For example, the first negotiated agreement, which was not too far from the operational mechanism of Gulf Initiative, was discussed on May 23. I think two changes occurred. First, there was the international community, including the permanent members of the Security Council, United Nations, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, was united in their concern about Yemen. All of them sent the same message that there is a need for a peaceful transition of power, and this was reflected in the UN Security Council Resolution 2014. Second, President Saleh was committed to change this time. President Saleh listened to his party, the people and the international community, and decided to finally sign the Gulf Initiative. I think that these two points were essential.
But it is argued that President Saleh has sent signals that he is not committed to transfer power and to implement the Initiative, such as his directives to the Ministry of Interior to investigate the events that took place last Thursday in Zubairy Street, and everyone knows it became the authority of the Vice President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi?
I think it is important that the Vice President fulfills his role completely in the wake of the implementation of the Gulf Initiative. We strongly support the Vice President and believe that he can reach out to the Yemeni people and, over time, the Vice President will be able to successfully carry out this role.
But, after less than 24 hours of signing the Initiative, four people were killed in the Zubairy Street. What has the international community done regarding this violation of the Gulf Initiative, and does the immunity granted to the President and his aides continue even after signing the agreement and the occurrence of these new insults?
First, the signature does not mean that Yemen suddenly become a quiet place, we deplore and strongly condemn the Thursday killings, and we hope that the authorities will start investigations so as to hold the perpetrators responsible. We also hope that the violence against peaceful protesters will stop as protesters have the right to peacefully protest. I hope that the Committee as stated in the mechanism will communicate with the protesters. Additionally, immunity is an issue Yemenis agreed upon and they have to implement this provision of the agreement.
But I do not know how the Security Council will deal with the immunity, given that there are calls from the youth movement in Yemen’s squares that immunity should not be endorsed. Even some international organizations called for this. Do not you see that this would be an impediment to the implementation of this item?
First Yemeni legislations and laws must be distinguished from the international ones. This is not a process concerning the Security Council or the international community. This issue was agreed on by Yemenis and will be implemented in Yemen even if Yemenis think that this is an important issue for reconciliation.
Mr. Ambassador, you spoke about three priorities included in the mechanism: to call voters, to appoint a prime minister and to form a military committee. Two priorities have been fulfilled so far, and we are waiting the third, which is ambiguous and many Yemenis have mixed feelings about it. What are the main functions of this military committee, and who will it consist of?
As for this committee, it will be chaired by the Vice-President Hadi and it will deal with the various events that lead to instability in Yemen. For example, military checkpoints should be lifted, military forces on the streets must return to their barracks, and civilian gunmen should leave major cities. These must happen so that the Yemeni people must enjoy the sense of a return to normal life. In the second phase, this committee will pave the way for the reform and a restructuring of the armed forces.
Does that mean the process of restructuring the armed forces will be following the presidential elections in February?
Will restructure of the army be a task of the same committee?
Yes, its mission will include overseeing this process.
Whom will this committee consist of?
At this stage, members should be selected.
Many ask about the fate of the President’s relatives leading armed forces and security services. As the President leaves, exactly after 90 days, what will happen to them?
This is not included in the Gulf Initiative. In addition, at this stage one cannot say that this is a priority of the Gulf Initiative, this issue must be dealt with gradually and at a later stage.
Do you mean post-presidential election?
As I said, the restructuring of the army will begin after the presidential elections, at this stage all Yemenis must think of their future vision.
What does restructuring the army mean? Will the current leaders be reconsidered?
It is a comprehensive process, we do not look at individuals, but rather at an integrated system. For example, one of the challenges is to achieve a united army and not lead to a fragmented military force.
Some are skeptical about the possibility of preparing for presidential elections within 90 days for various reasons, what would the situation be then?
I think that the election will be on time and that process will be supported by the international community, as this election will be in accordance with the procedures and arrangements set forth in the mechanism. For example, the existing electoral register will be adopted and the current supreme committee for elections will oversee the elections. There is also a consensus candidate, namely Hadi, so I think that the elections will be held on schedule.
There is no doubt that the Government of National Reconciliation will face significant economic challenges, is there an international commitment to support this government and to provide it with financial aid?
Once the government is formed, the international community will try to respond to the needs of this government and give it direct support. There are huge needs starting with the requirements for infrastructure as well as social needs such as health and education, in addition to the challenges concerning the elections.
We heard that the European Union suspended development aid to Yemen, has such aid been released again?
We in the EU did not stop the development support to Yemen entirely, but some projects were suspended. Some projects have been shut down for security reasons as foreign staff members were evacuated from Yemen. Development aid to Yemen, however, has not been stopped. However, we have focused our direct assistance to the people of Yemen through non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations. In addition, a change in the security and military context will allow us to provide more assistance and this will be one of the most important priorities over the coming months.
Your Excellency, what is your opinion about the opposition parties nominating an independent person to head the government?
This is a positive and important thing — for the first time in the history of Yemen there is a reconciliation candidate who enjoys everyone’s acceptance and support. This would also allow a step-by-step approach to the transition process, since the early elections are the first step of the transition process and the next government will have two years to make constitutional reforms, create national dialogue and pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014.
Mr. Ambassador, you attended the signing ceremony in Riyadh. What did you think about at that moment, and what did you feel while seeing the parties as they sign on the Initiative?
Indeed, it was very important occasion. I had the opportunity to accompany the Yemeni delegation. What amazed me is to see the different parties discussing together and talking about their vision for the future of Yemen. I hope this situation represents a positive direction for Yemen’s future. We must abandon the policy of confrontation and turn to a more consensual approach.
The presence of King Abdullah and several members of the royal family added more importance to this occasion, it was also clear that the entire international community was present in the hall where the agreement was signed. Prominent individuals at the ceremony included the GCC represented by its member states’ foreign ministers, ambassadors of the five members of the Security Council and there were the representatives of the United Nations and the European Union, all of whom called for this agreement and for the political transition in Yemen.
Mr. Ambassador, are Your Excellency optimistic about the implementation of the Agreement?
We must be optimistic. I am optimistic, but there will be obstacles and difficulties. Nevertheless, first and foremost, the Yemenis are now in need for change. Yemenis are tired now because of the suffering they have experienced over the past months but as every day passes and they see the beginning of change, they will become optimistic. I said weeks ago, namely before the Eid al-Adha, that you will hear good news during the days of Eid, while it took two more weeks, we have achieved our goal. The more we are able to implement the Gulf Initiative, the more this government could prove its ability to change people’s lives and thus, increase the support it would receive. People eventually start to believe that change for the better is coming, and the European Union will always provide strong support to this government.
As you previously said, you believed an agreement would be reached by Eid Al-Adha, yet is delayed by two weeks. Did you have any fears that the deal would not be reached or that something else could happen?
As you know, such processes are complex, and the absence of some key negotiators from Sana’a created some restraints as they could not return at that specific time. We also had the Security Council meeting scheduled, so the meeting represented an incentive for all to meet, negotiate and achieve something before the Security Council took place.
A final word?
I hope that this would be a new beginning to Yemen economically, politically and socially, and that political standoff would be kept away for the best interest of Yemen. No doubt that the road will be long and winding, but the door is open now.