Interview with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg on China Central Television (CCTV)

Photo by OSESGY/Ethar Shaibany

11 Apr 2024

Interview with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg on China Central Television (CCTV)

YUNXIANG: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our episode today. We are honored to have His Excellency the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, to discuss the latest developments in the peace process and the influence of political and military tensions in the Red Sea on the UN efforts to end the war.

Nice to meet you.

UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg: Thank you.

YUNXIANG: Your Excellency, with the Yemen conflict now entering its tenth year, how do you assess the current situation? What progress do you believe has been made over the past nine years, and what major challenges remain?

Grundberg: Well, first and foremost, and I think this goes without saying, I approach the current situation with a mix of both concern and determination. And the concern is obviously linked to the broader destabilization that we've seen in the Middle East so far, and the impact that this has had on the mediation space, and the possibility to reach a breakthrough in Yemen. But the determination remains in place, and that is thanks to the fact that our trajectory, when it comes to the long-term aim for the sake of Yemen, remains in place.

Our goal has been and will always be to achieve a political process that achieves a settlement of the conflict in Yemen on a long-term basis. So that determination remains absolutely in place. However, the longer the current complications remain in place, there is a risk that the situation becomes more difficult to resolve. And that's why I think that it's critical for everyone to remind themselves of the progress that we have achieved so far. Now that we, as you mentioned, enter into the 10th year of the conflict in Yemen.

And just about two years ago, the parties in Yemen took a first very courageous step in agreeing on a truce that has then largely been holding for the last two years. We've seen a reduction of violence inside Yemen to an unprecedented level. And despite some incidents of concern, the situation on the military frontlines inside Yemen have remained stable. That truce has in itself delivered the possibility for serious and concrete discussion, with myself and the parties, but also between the parties themselves, and also between the parties and the region, there has been serious and concrete discussions on a realistic path towards a settlement of the conflict in Yemen.

Subsequently, and very much thanks to the notable support of the region of Oman and Saudi Arabia, the parties, by the end of 2023, agreed to a set of commitments that would constitute the basis for a UN roadmap, and that would then be implemented and lead to a real ceasefire and to a political process. These progress are nothing, these are serious progress, serious sets of progress in the case, in the context of the development of the conflict in Yemen and should not be overlooked. And they should not also. We need to make everything in our power to make sure that that progress can be capitalized upon, and make sure that can lead to the breakthrough that the Yemeni population is in need of.

In order to achieve this progress, I think that at the current complicated situation, there are three things that will be absolutely decisive. One is the necessity for a broader destabilization, a broader stabilization in the Middle East, that will also allow the parties, but also the international community, to refocus and re-engage on the long-term settlement of the conflict in Yemen. Similarly, and that is, I think, equally important, this is not the moment for the parties to use this kind of situation to escalate the situation inside Yemen. We need to maintain the stability or the cessation of hostility that we've seen inside Yemen, need that to maintain while we are working towards a progress and while we are working towards a breakthrough. And finally, I believe that channels of communication that have been open and have broader need to remain as open as possible, if we want to make sure that we can achieve what we have set ourselves in achieving.

YUNXIANG: Recently, the Red Sea region has witnessed a series of security incidents, including attacks on oil tankers, amidst the spill-over of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, heightening tensions in the area. In light of this increasingly tense security situation, which is causing concerns about regional stability, how do you assess the impact of these events on the Yemen conflict? Furthermore, how might these developments affect your mediation effortsAnd what measures do you believe should be taken to alleviate tensions in the Red Sea region, potentially benefiting the wider regional peace and stability?

Grundberg: The unfolding tragedy in Gaza and the interlinked destabilization that we've seen in the Middle East, including the escalatory situation that we're witnessing in the Red Sea, have slowed down the momentum in the talks that we've been engaging on in order to reach an agreement on the roadmap and its implementation. And that, I think that goes without saying.

The critical issue here is that if this situation continues, there is always a risk that the parties might harden their positions and they could also recalculate their positions, and that will mean that the solutions that we are envisaging could become more difficult to achieve.

So, I believe that in this situation, it's critical for all of us to understand the interlinkage of the different complicated situations that we're seeing in the Middle East, that we understand the interlinkage with one situation has on the other, and that nothing happens without having a causality effect on the other. And that we understand those interlinkages, in order to be able to address them. But that doesn't mean that I think that we need to address them in a sequenced or in a conditionalized manner. I think that that would be an error, because that could also lead us to complicate the resolutions of the different issues that are at stake.

So, from that point of view, I believe that one can seek solutions in parallel by understanding the interlinkage between the different situations. And that, I think, is a critical element here, so that we can allow one solution to have a positive effect on the other and use that in order to reach the broader stabilization that the Middle East is in need of.

For the sake of Yemen, there I think that it's critical that the international community remains as engaged as possible, and that it remains as possible when it comes to putting pressure on the parties and putting pressure on the need for diplomacy to remain in the front line and to be the core element, if we want to achieve real positive results in Yemen. When it comes to the situation inside Yemen, I think that there is one essential thing that one needs to remind oneself of, and that is the fact that the elements of the commitments that the parties agreed to, that I mentioned in your previous question, these are underpinned by needs of the Yemeni population that are still valid today and will remain valid also in the future. Here, these needs are critical.

The needs that we're talking about and that we're trying to settle through the roadmap are there. You have the Yemeni public servant needs to be able to be paid for his or her work. The salary needs to be able to be paid. The Yemeni citizen needs to be able to travel inside Yemen without hindrance. The private sector of Yemen needs to be able to enter goods or export goods without hindrance and they need to be able to do so without further taxes or complications that allow goods to be sold [at] a reasonable price inside Yemen. And there is a need for the political situation in Yemen to resolve, so that Yemenis can live with the comfort that the war is not going to come back and that they can start to plan their life on a long-term basis. All of that remains in place and will not go away regardless of the development in the Middle East. And that's why my efforts and the efforts of my team and the United Nations will remain on reaching that breakthrough

YUNXIANG: What are the United Nations' priorities to de-escalate the situation?

Grundberg: For the sake of the whole of the Middle East, I think that broader de-escalation is needed. That is absolutely necessary. And what do I mean with that? I will here take the opportunity to reiterate the calls that the Secretary General has made for a long time now. And that is a need, first and foremost, there is a need for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of the hostages, and that needs to happen as soon as possible. Similarly, there is also a need to avoid any spillover effect of the situation in Gaza in the broader Middle East, and that is essential. We need to make sure that the possibilities that exist in the Middle East are able to deliver. And if we want that to happen, [the] spillover effect and continued destabilization will not be to the benefit of the population in the Middle East. This includes also the situation in the Red Sea, where we will need to see some level of de-escalation. And then focusing again on the situation in Yemen, we'll need to see a breakthrough there as well. We need to see a situation where we can move forward on the progress that I just described to us. And here, while I am following very closely the work that my colleagues inside the UN are carrying out in Gaza, but also in the broader Middle East. My focus remains on Yemen, and my focus remains on making sure that we can reach that breakthrough the sooner, the better. In that sense, I'm remaining in very close touch with the Yemeni parties, that goes without saying, but I'm also in touch with the broader international community. And I just came back from visits both to Moscow and to Washington with a short interval and had lengthy and concrete discussions in both capitals on the long-term needs and the long-term necessity to seek a long-term settlement of the conflict in Yemen. And here, I'm pleased to have received strong support, both from Moscow and from Washington, on my vision for a long-term settlement of the conflict in Yemen. So, I do believe that that is possible to achieve.

YUNXIANG: Regarding the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the international community has been working tirelessly to provide aid. How do you assess the effectiveness of current aid efforts? Is there a need to change aid strategies to better meet humanitarian needs?

Grundberg: Unfortunately, and I really want to underline this, “unfortunately”, the situation, the humanitarian needs in Yemen remain vast. And when I underline the word, “unfortunately”, I do that because I would have wanted that to be different, given the fact that we enter in the tenth year of the war. I would have wanted to be in a situation where the humanitarian's needs would not have been as vast as they are today. But also equally, unfortunately, the last couple of years, we have seen a multiplication of conflicts worldwide, and the situations which require the support of humanitarian aid deliveries and the humanitarian donors; that means that the funds available for Yemen are not as available as they have been, and there is a need for additional support for Yemen, also in the years to come. With that said, my colleagues who are working on humanitarian aid delivery are in an unfortunate situation where they need to prioritize their efforts and their delivery inside Yemen, and I wished that they wouldn't be in that situation. All of that to say that this also underlines the necessity and the urgency that we reach a breakthrough on the political settlement of the conflict in Yemen, because only that can allow Yemen to take itself to the next level where you can also focus on the serious reconstruction that Yemen is in need of and development support that Yemen is in need of. But in order to achieve that, there is a need for a political process that achieves that long-term stability.

YUNXIANG: This year, there have been reductions in humanitarian response plan budgets, donor commitments, and funding for relief projects. Additionally, the United States has announced the reclassification of the Houthi organization as a "terrorist group." How will all of this affect the humanitarian situation in areas controlled by the Houthi armed group and the implementation of United Nations plans?

Grundberg: We have been following this very closely, and that goes without saying. And well, my first point on this issue is that regardless of the development and regardless of any designation of any group by any country, the United Nations mediation efforts will remain in place. That goes with that saying, that's the first thing that can be said. Secondly, I think that when we face a situation such as this one where the United States have designated Ansar Allah, the major concern from the United Nations at this point is to ensure that the primordial concern is to ensure the humanitarian aid delivery can continue without hindrance. And that's why my colleagues that are working with the humanitarian delivery have been in close touch with United States counterparts to ensure that that general licenses are being delivered, are being given, so that we can assure the continuity of humanitarian aid inside Yemen. That assessment is an ongoing one. Obviously, there is a broader concern as well, because when you see in situations such as these where you have a designation, that can have a chilling effect on the broader economy as in itself and can also affect the border economic situation, and that is something that you would want to avoid. So, this is an issue that we assess and try to address on a daily basis.

YUNXIANG: As the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen conflict, your work primarily focuses on mediating and facilitating dialogue among the parties involved. So, what are the prospects for promoting a political solution in the current situation? What key factors could facilitate this process? And what is your outlook on achieving peace and stability?

Grundberg: It's a very good question, and it's a difficult one to answer. Well, first, the first thing to say there is that my approach has always, and from the beginning, been combining two contradictory issues. On one end, the one key element of my approach is steadfastness, looking at the long-term delivery, long-term goal that we want to achieve, and making sure that all our efforts are geared towards that long-term goal. Make sure that not only the United Nations’, but also the international community's efforts are geared towards that long-term goal, and that the parties understand that long-term goal. So, steadfastness is one critical element if you want to achieve real results. Similarly, and that's why I'm saying contradictory, there is a need to be flexible. And that flexibility is required if you want to achieve results in a shifting situation such as the one that we are facing today. We're facing a situation where the possibility to make long-term planning inside the Middle East currently is complicated by the destabilization that we're witnessing. And there, I think that a flexible approach that takes care, that understands the situation that we are in, and addresses that situation in a flexible manner, maintaining the long-term approach is necessary if we want to achieve real results. Here, I will again expect not only support from the international community, but also courage from the parties themselves, not to use the current situations as an opportunity to walk away from the commitments that have been done, but to maintain that level of commitment and to move towards the progress that has been achieved. This is not the moment for zero-sum games or short -term tactical games. This is the moment for long-term approach. This is the moment for courageous decision-making. And that is what I think is absolutely needed.

YUNXIANG: In your opinion, how much of a role has China played in resolving the Yemen conflict, and what impact has it had on advancing the Yemeni issue?

Grundberg: So, China's engagement on Yemen goes back several decades, I would say even over half a century. And as always, I still today meet several Yemenis who mention the critical contribution that China gave in the, I think it was in the early 50s, by contributing to the building of the road, to the critical artery that links the port of Hodeidah with Sana'a, a road that I have traveled myself. And that road was constructed thanks to Chinese contribution, and several Chinese construction workers also lost their lives in the construction of that road. So, the engagement of China in Yemen goes back several decades. Today, the role of China remains as important as ever. Its support to the United Nations mediation efforts is critical. I remain in close touch with my Chinese counterparts, and that is a relationship that is based on trust and straightforwardness, and that is a relationship that will deliver real results. And I will look forward to continued support from China on the United Nations mediation efforts. Similarly, China has also broadened its efforts in the Middle East. You've seen that China hosted a very important meeting, which led to the resumption of the diplomatic relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia. That is not a small feat. I think that resumption of relationship is critical, if you want to achieve long-term stability in the Middle East. Similarly, additionally, I would say China is one of the five permanent members in the Security Council and, as such, carries a voice inside the Security Council that counts. It has, for a long time now, been a strong supporter of a political settlement of the conflict in Yemen, and I will hope that China's voice will continue to push for that solution and that that voice will continue to be heard. So, all this to say that the role of China remains as important as ever, not only for the work, for the mediation work of the United Nations, but also for the sake of the Yemeni population.

And based on when this program is aired, maybe the Eid celebrations have already begun, or even finalized. But I will want to take this opportunity to wish all Yemenis inside Yemen and worldwide a blessed and happy Eid. And I know that you have all been through difficulties for the last couple of years and challenges. But I will also want to reassure that they can count on the United Nations, that they can count on my office and myself on a continued steadfast support to achieve the long-term settlement of the conflict that we want to see. And for the broader audience and for the Chinese, I wish that you continue to provide the support that the beautiful country of Yemen needs and deserves, and that your engagement on this very complicated, but also very engaging, file remains as strong as mine.

Thank you!

 YUNXIANG: Thank you for your valuable viewpoint, your Excellency.