Yemen-Iran Foreign Relations
Yemen and Iran have had cordial, if tepid, relations since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Ties between the two states, however, have been damaged in recent years by the Islamic Republic’s support for Shi’ite rebels engaged in armed conflict with Yemeni government forces. Yemeni officials have repeatedly accused Iran of providing funding and weapons to the Zaydi Shi’ite al Houthi rebels and on one occasion claimed to have discovered Iranian-made arms in rebel weapons caches. Iran has also deployed submarines and warships off Yemen’s coast, in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, ostensibly to conduct anti-piracy operations. Iran’s military presence and support for Shi’ite rebels in Yemen has heightened Saudi fears that the Islamic Republic is attempting to establish a proxy presence similar to Hamas or Hezbollah on Saudi Arabia’s southern border. In 2009, Saudi Arabia’s air force conducted strikes along its border after Yemeni rebels crossed into its territory and attacked Saudi border forces.
American officials have suggested that the Iranian regime is exploiting the internal unrest that engulfed Yemen during the Arab Spring. In March 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Appropriations Committee that Iran was “very much involved in the opposition movements in Yemen.” In April of the same year during a speech delivered to troops at Camp Liberty, Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that Iran may “try and take advantage” of instability in countries such as Yemen. Officials in the Islamic Republic have denied accusations they are supporting Yemeni militants and in turn have used state media outlets to broadcast al Houthi propaganda, characterizing the armed rebels as “anti-government protestors.”
The Yemeni government in 2008 expressed its support for Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program.
January 31, 2008: In a meeting with the European Union’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh defended Iran’s right to “nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” Saleh further stressed his country’s desire for a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East.
August 12, 2006: Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. During the meeting Saleh expressed his support for Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program.
June 9, 2006: Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani met with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana’a. The two discussed Iran’s nuclear program and Saleh affirmed his support for Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
October 1, 2005: Representative of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Tashkiri delivered a letter to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The letter addressed relations between Iran and Yemen. During the meeting between Tashkiri and Saleh, the Yemeni President reiterated his country’s support for Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program.
September 23, 2005: Representative of Yemen to the United Nations Hamid Sharaf announced his country’s support for Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program during an IAEA board meeting.
March 2011: Iran did not rank in the top five among the top recipients of Yemeni exports, nor did it rank among the top five among the top importers of goods to Yemen.
February 23, 2009: Yemen’s Minister of Trade and Industry and Iran’s Minister of Energy agreed to resolve several economic issues between the two countries in order to boost trade and economic cooperation.
January 18, 2009: Iranian Minister of Housing and Urban Development Mohammad Saeedi-Kia met with Yemeni Minister of Public Works and Roads Umar al Kurshomi met in Yemen to discuss “bilateral ties and mutual cooperation.”
2005: According to a report by Iran’s Customs Administration the Islamic Republic exported $7.7 million worth of goods to Yemen in 2005 and imported just $130,000 in goods from Yemen.
2005: Iran did not rank among Yemen’s top ten recipients of Yemeni exports for the period 2001-2005., nor was it among the top twenty countries Yemen receives imports from in 2005. Data after 2005 is not available.
July 9, 2011: Head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society’s Relief and Rescue Organization Mahmoud Mozaffar announced plans to send humanitarian aid to Yemen. He added that the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Yemen had assisted in gaining approval for the delivery of the cargo.
July 5, 2011: Yemeni security agents arrested Hassan Zaid, leader of the Shi’ite opposition party al Haq, en route to Saudi Arabia. Zaid, who was released shortly thereafter, claimed that the Yemeni agents accused him of being an Iranian agent.
April 14, 2011: U.S. intelligence officials reported Iran was attempting to aid Shi’ite groups in Bahrain and Yemen. The assessment was based on intercepted communication between officials in the Islamic Republic and opposition figures in Yemen and Bahrain.
April 7, 2011: In remarks to troops at Camp Liberty, Iraq, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suggested that Iran may try to take advantage of the unstable security environment in countries such as Yemen in the wake of the Arab Spring: “we have to keep our eye on it very closely because I think it is a period, while all these changes are taking place, where extremists probably will try and take advantage, including Iran.”
March 20, 2011: Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast expressed his country’s “deep concern” over the Yemeni government’s use of violence to suppress protestors.
March 2, 2011: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted in testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee that, “We know that the Iranians are very much involved in the opposition movements in Yemen.”
February 22, 2011: Yemen’s Specialized Penal Court presented its case against three Yemenis charged with spying for Iran. One of the defendants, Muhammad al Hatmi, allegedly confessed to spying for Iran for more than 12 years, providing Iran “reports on the political, economic, social and war situations in Yemen.”
May 31, 2010: Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal met Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana’a. According to Meshaal, he intended to discuss “current developments in Palestine” with the Yemeni leader.
March 29, 2010: An unnamed Iranian diplomat said Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s remark that Iran was interfering in Yemen was “unwise.” President Saleh accused Iran of interference in a recent interview in the pan-Arab daily al Hayat newspaper.
January 12, 2010: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki urged the Yemeni government to bring a peaceful settlement to the country’s ongoing internal conflict.
December 23, 2009: Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast criticized military attacks on Yemeni civilians: “Iran is unhappy with the ongoing situation in Yemen. It is a murdering of Muslim brothers.”
December 13, 2009: Anonymous intelligence sources claimed that al Houthi rebels met with an official from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah leaders.
November 25, 2009: Yemeni officials closed the Iranian hospital operating in Sana’a, claiming that it was being used by Iranian intelligence operatives and to funnel funds to Zaydi Shi’ite rebels.
November 12, 2009: One day after Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against Shi’ite al Houthi rebels in Yemen, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denounced regional interference in Yemen’s internal affairs, warning “those who pour oil on the fire must know that they will not be spared from the smoke that billows.” A Yemeni foreign ministry spokesman shot back, “We affirm that Yemen categorically rejects any interference in its internal affairs by any party whatsoever…. Yemen also rejects any attempt by any party to represent itself as the protector of sons of the Yemeni people.”
November 7, 2009: Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al Qirbi called on Iran to take action against religious groups based in Iran aiding al Houthi rebels in north Yemen. Yemeni officials claimed to have evidence al Houthi rebels were receiving aid from Iranian religious bodies, as well as Shi’ite groups in Europe and the Arabian Gulf.
October 29, 2009: Iranian Defense Minister General Ahmad Vahidi asserted that his country was prepared to “present an initiative necessary for ending the conflict (in Yemen).”
October 28, 2009: Yemeni coast guards commandeered a boat they claimed entered Yemen’s territorial waters illegally and arrested five Iranians on board. The vessel’s cargo reportedly contained anti-tank shells.
October 27, 2009: Iranian officials denied shipping weapons to Shi’ite rebels in Yemen. A Yemeni official had earlier claimed a vessel loaded with Iranian arms had been seized off the coast of Yemen’s Hajjah province.
October 19, 2009: Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh accused Shi’ite al Houthi rebels of accepting funding from “certain Iranian dignitaries,” though did not accuse the Iranian government specifically and cited intelligence from confiscated documents. Saleh also noted that the al Houthi rebels’ training appears to be similar to that of Lebanese-based Hezbollah, and that there are unconfirmed reports of Lebanese trainers in rebel strongholds.
September 28, 2009: Cleric ‘Issam al ‘Imad, disciple of al Houthi leader Hussein al Houthi, conducted an interview with Ayande News, a site affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). In this interview al ‘Imad asserted that al Houthi rebels are not Zaidi Shi’ites, but rather that all al Houthis are Twelver Shi’ites, the brand of Shi’ism practiced and espoused by the regime in the Islamic Republic. Al ‘Imad also stated that Hussein al Houthi considered himself a disciple of Ayatollah Khomeini, and that the rebel leader urged his followers to “emulate the Islamic Republic and…learn from Iran.”
August 24, 2009: In response to accusations by Yemeni officials that Iran was supporting Zaydi Shi’ite rebels fighting against the government, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hasshan Ghashghavi stated that Iran respects Yemen’s “territorial integrity” and believes “that peace and calm be established in this country.”
August 22, 2009: A Yemeni official claimed that the military had seized Iranian-made weapons from multiple al Houthi rebel arms caches. According to the official, “The troops... have discovered six storehouses for weapons that belong to the Huthi rebels and contain some Iranian-made weapons, including machine guns, short-range rockets and ammunition.”
June 27, 2009: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced that Yemeni officials had “agreed to permit Iranian warships to dock at Yemen's port (of Aden) to provide security to Iranian commercial ships in the region.” The deal was finalized in a meeting between Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Mottaki.
May 12, 2009: Yemeni Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Muthana Hassan met with Iranian foreign ministert Manouchehr Mottaki in Sana’a. Muthana expressed his country’s desire to maintain cordial relations with Iran: “We feel brotherhood and friendship with the great Iranian nation and we believe that Iran wants nothing but good for us and we want nothing but good for Iran.”
July 13, 2008: Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al Qirbi met with Hamas head Khaled Meshal to discuss potential reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas.
March 20, 2006: Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh met with Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal.