An interview with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg on China Central Television

31 May 2023

An interview with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg on China Central Television

UN envoy: Permanent truce in Yemen possible but not easy

Interviewer (Wang Guan): Special Envoy Grundberg, thank you for doing this. Welcome to CGTN.

Special Envoy Hans Grundberg: Thank you so much.

Guan: You have a very important mission. You were in Yemen recently. Tell us, what did you see? What did you hear on the ground? How has the United Nations-brokered ceasefire hold up there?

Grundberg: Well, I think the first thing we can say is that [the situation] in Yemen, from a more humanitarian and also economic point of view, remains dire, remains difficult and Yemen will no doubt be in need of support from the international community in the period ahead. That goes without saying. However, as you alluded to, the last year, we've seen some positive development on the political and also on the military side. We have seen a truce that was brokered a bit more than a year ago through the work of myself and my office, and that has largely been holding up until today. And we now have an opportunity where we also can, if we play our cards right and all participate in a constructive manner, we can also take the next step, which would be seeking agreement from the parties for a more concerted truce and steps towards a political process and a nationwide ceasefire. And this is an opportunity that I think the Yemenis and the international community should take moving forward.

Guan: It is a very complex and complicated situation there. A lot is at stake but there are so many parties, stakeholders involved there, warring parties within Yemen, how do you foresee a virtuous cycle to kickstart and to be introduced in the country?

Grundberg: As I mentioned, there has been a development lately where we have seen steps taken that show the Yemenis that they can achieve results if they do come into an agreement with one another. The truce is a first case in point of that. But we’ve also seen other agreements which delivered results. We’ve seen a release of prisoners just before the Eid celebrations, which I think was a tremendous achievement, and also a tremendous achievement from the parties themselves to show the Yemeni population that they can agree, and that diplomacy is possible. So, here the efforts of the United Nations on finding a sustainable solution to the conflict will continue. And I do hope that with this as these results that we will be able to move forward and find real concrete solutions to the conflict.

Guan: you talked about sustainable and concrete solutions there. Through talking to different parties within Yemen, is it your sense that a permanent ceasefire can be within reach in the foreseeable future?

Grundberg: I do believe that that is possible, but I would not want to say that it is going to be easy. It still requires compromises to be made from the parties in order to reach that level of agreement. We're in a position right now where there are ongoing discussions taking place on different levels in support of the United Nations’ mediation efforts. And what I do want to see here is all these efforts to forge into a situation where I feel that I can present a proposal to the parties which they also can agree to, and which will then allow negotiations for a permanent ceasefire to take place. So, I do believe that it is possible, but absolutely not easy.

Guan: You're not going to say within what the timeframe there could be a permanent ceasefire?

Grundberg: I will also want to be humble in terms of what the future may give. But what I can say is that the United Nations and myself will spare no efforts in trying to reach that point as soon as possible.

Guan: Right, right. But Hans, if you think about it, there are so many pieces to this puzzle, right. There's a government in exile, basically, in Saudi Arabia, and the Houthis, the Houthi militants, are controlling much of the country, including the capital, for the longest time. And then there's this Southern Transitional Council that's claiming a territory of its own. What could a peace deal, a future government look like, in your opinion?

Grundberg: So, first, I do believe that the government is located in Aden, and is not considered to be in exile. But as you mentioned, the rest of your analysis is absolutely correct. It is a complicated situation which has been going on for the last seven years. When it comes to my first priority, [it] is to ensure that we come to a situation where the parties agree to enter into a political process. That means that the parties just need to agree on a structured approach to resolving the differences through negotiation.

Guan: Power sharing?

Grundberg: That will obviously be part of the negotiations that will take place. But, here, it's important that I don't also foresee any of the solutions that you want me to talk about because that is for the parties themselves to define through negotiations.

Guan: What do you think the recent détente and rapprochement between the Saudi Arabia and Iran? What kind of impact would that rapprochement have on the current situation in Yemen because we know that the two rivals, the Saudis and Iranians, have supported or at least allegedly opposing sides in Yemen?

Grundberg: As I mentioned to the Security Council, a couple of months back, I welcomed the announcement that was made from here, from Beijing, on the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume diplomatic relations. And here, this welcoming is based on the fact that I am firmly believe that, for Yemen’s sake, good and strong and well, healthy, channels of communication between all Yemen’s neighbors are necessary if you want to support Yemen to come out of the current challenges. Here I believe that this agreement, the renewal of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia can definitely help support the development in Yemen. But as we talked about earlier, the situation is so complex and that it cannot just be limited to the overall relation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. And therefore, I believe that it can help, but it will not resolve the situation completely. That resolution of the conflict is in the hands of the Yemenis in the end.

Guan: And what role do you think China can play and is playing through your talks with the Chinese diplomats and relevant officials?

Grundberg: I consider myself rather lucky in the situation that I am in because I feel that during the last almost two years that I've been in my tenure, I enjoyed considerable support from the broad international community, but also from the world's great powers, including from China, [as well as] from the United States and Russia and the other permanent members of the Security Council. Here I believe that there is a unified approach from the international community in wanting to see the conflict in Yemen being resolved. When it comes to China's approach, I do believe that China, as one of the world's great powers, as a permanent member of the Security Council, can use that leverage to also ensure that we take the necessary steps and support the ongoing efforts that I and the United Nations are doing. This is what I am engaging on together with the Chinese officials here in Beijing and looking forward to concrete outcome out of these exchanges.

Guan: What can you disclose to us about your negotiations with your Chinese counterpart with regard to finding a solution to an end the conflict in Yemen?

Grundberg: The discussions that I am having here are part of an ongoing effort that I'm doing in trying to make sure that the unified support that I get from the international community remains as strong as possible. And … it's important for me to explain to interlocutors such as China about how I read the situation, where I think the ongoing efforts should be focusing on, and make sure that I do also get support [for] that approach, from the interlocutors that I have. And that if I do feel that I have that level of support from China, but also from others, from the United States, from all the other members of the Security Council, I also feel strengthened in the possibility of delivering results. So that's basically the core of the exchange that I have here in Beijing.

Guan: Is it your sense that somehow the different stakeholders have come closer in the course of the past year, especially in the course of past few months, if you think about the fact that, you know, Syria is back to the Arab League, Iran and Saudi Arabia have this great détente, and China’s role is widely anticipated within this region, some call it the area of great détente in the Middle East. How do you feel about that?

Grundberg: I always believe in humbleness. I believe that one should be welcoming positive development and one should consolidate that, but one should also be careful in not [rushing] too far ahead in your analysis and your hopes for the future, making sure that you take all the steps that you take are on solid ground. But I will agree with you that we've seen a development in the region where I work that are positive and where we also see a situation where the countries in the region are willing to solve their differences themselves, and that is encouraging. There I do believe, again, coming back to the role of the United Nations and the broader international community that we have a responsibility in assisting them in solving the differences. And this is where I see China's role as a positive one and will want to make sure that the positive steps that we have seen so far can also be sustained.

Guan: Hans, let's talk about the humanitarian disasters on the ground, which is stunning. Two thirds of Yemenis or 22 million rely on aid to survive right now. Give us a sense of what you see on the ground.

Grundberg: The situation in Yemen even before the war was difficult. I started myself as a young Swedish diplomat working on Yemen, effectively in 2007, 2008ish. Already then, the economic situation in Yemen was challenging. I was then working for Sweden, but within the European Union context. And it was clear then that Yemen would be in need of serious assistance from the international community in order to tackle the challenges that we saw then. So even without a war, the situation in Yemen was and would have been difficult. The fact that such a country, one of the world's poorest countries, have been subject to a seven-year-long war, obviously generates humanitarian suffering that has been catastrophic, there will be a continued need of support from the international community to Yemen in the foreseeable future. The ongoing work that I do on the political end could facilitate transition from mere humanitarian support to more long-term development, [which] would be of tremendous help for Yemen. But for that to happen, you need the serious steps that I talked about before, a transition and a commitment from the parties towards a nationwide ceasefire and a political process to be in place in order to provide confidence to donors that development aid in Yemen is possible.

Guan: How do you see China coming into play when it comes to peacemaking if you think about China's massive infrastructure program, such as the Belt and Road initiative in helping with development and infrastructure?

Grundberg: China supported Yemen by building the road that links the capital Sana’a with the Port of Hudaydah during the end of the 50s. And that road is a road that I have been traveling on, and it’s today an important line that connects the Red Sea with the capital Sana’a. But obviously support doesn’t necessarily to be limited to infrastructure, it can also be broader than that. But again, a collective and a coordinated and a coherent support from the broad international community, I think it's what is going to be the most important line forward.

Guan: And finally, Hans, you’ve been in diplomacy for quite a while now. You’re representing the United Nations, of which China is a key member. How do you look at broadly China’s role in the world if you think about its many many initiatives, from building a community of common destiny to global security and peace and security and civilization initiatives?

Grundberg: As a representative of the United Nations, I will highlight the fact that the Global Security Initiative, I think the point two of the Global Security Initiative highlights the role of the United Nations and also points out China’s willingness to support the work that the United Nations is doing in terms of promoting peace in the world. And that is something that I believe I welcome and something that I hope that we can also build upon.

Guan: Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, thank you so much for your time.

Grundberg: Thank you!