A Growing Rift Between Washington and the Gulf States on Yemen

03/01/2015 10:12 am ET | Updated May 01, 2015

Activity intensified over the past week at the United Nations with respect to the deteriorating situation in Yemen -- amid further evidence of a rift over the country's future between Washington and its traditional Gulf allies.

Jamal Benomar, the United Nations special envoy to Yemen, met with Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi at his new headquarters in Aden. He reiterated support for Hadi as the country's legitimately elected leader, told reporters that his "resumption of duties would help to pull the country together," and called for a resolution of the crisis within the framework of the "Gulf Initiative." Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council decided to extend the mandate of the "group of four" experts on Yemen, which was established to oversee sanctions measures employed against individuals and entities designated as threatening "peace, security or stability "in the country. And the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Friday raised alarms about a growing number of "unlawful arrests, arbitrary detention, and the targeting of journalists" in the country.

The seeming consistency of the UN position stood in contrast to conflicting signals from Washington. On the one hand, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that her government would like "all parties" to "recommit themselves to the GCC initiative, National Dialogue Conference outcomes, and relevant UN Security Council resolutions." But over a week in which GCC embassies relocated to Aden in solidarity with the Yemeni president, Psaki stated that no one in the Administration had been in touch with Hadi since he arrived in Yemen, and went on to say two days later that she was "unsure about whether there had been any US contact with Hadi since Monday."

A flurry of media reports in the United States have meanwhile appeared suggesting that the United States is growing closer to Iran with respect to its Yemeni policies. Michael Vickers, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, has confirmed that the United States has an intelligence relationship with the Houthi insurgent group to counter al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Secretary of State John Kerry, for his part, told U.S. lawmakers last week that he "knows" that the Tehran government was "surprised" at the Houthi takeover of the capital Sanaa. The statement appeared to indicate that Kerry has been in talks with the Tehran regime over Yemen, and was persuaded by the Iranian line. Following his March 2 address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Kerry will again meet with Iranian foreign minister Jawad Zarif as part of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear project -- then visit Riyadh and London to discuss Yemen and other matters with Gulf foreign ministers.

On a related matter, "Stratfor," an American private intelligence company, released a report Thursday alleging that private talks were underway in the Gulf with respect to a possible "two-state solution" for Yemen. Such a settlement would eventually place new pressures on the Houthis in Sanaa: According to Muhammad Lutf al-Uryani, Yemen's former minister of water and the environment, Yemeni has approached a "state of water emergency" - and the capital itself, which stands 3300 meters above sea level with a population of more than 2.5 million, will eventually have to be moved. This costly endeavor will be extremely difficult, particularly if the Houthi rebels do not manage to wrest control over the oil fields of Marib, as they are currently attempting to do in their ongoing military campaign.

This post is a translation from Joseph Braude's weekly column in the Moroccan Arabic-language daily Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya,. Follow Joseph Braude on Twitter @josephbraude.