Diplomatic efforts to tackle the lack of free navigation in Red Sea

2024/03/19 at 8:05 PM

Representatives of President Joe Biden’s administration are negotiating with an Iranian government representative to end Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea. They also asked the Chinese administration to use ‘its influence in Iran to stop the Houthis’. This information was reported independently by the British newspaper Financial Times and CNN.

Diplomatic efforts to tackle the lack of free navigation in Red Sea

It is widely believed that Yemen’s Houthi rebel movement receives direct support from Iran, ranging from financial support to take power in Yemen, as well as comprehensive support (military and intelligence) in conducting a military campaign in the Gulf of Aden. Expert opinions also emphasise that the key to solving the problem of disruptions to free navigation lies in the Middle East. Iran supports the Houthis not only because they declare belonging to the Shia Islamic sect but also to limit the regional influence of Sunni Saudi Arabia, as well as countries such as Egypt, Oman and the UAE. The latter, and especially Egypt, which is losing hundreds of millions of dollars a month due to the reduction in the number of ships using the Suez Canal, however, have no leverage against the Houthis.

Negotiations through intermediaries

In an interview with the FT, both Iranian and American officials confirmed that talks were taking place (this was not confirmed by the US State Department). It follows that in January, ‘the White House’s two most important advisers on the Middle East went to Oman for talks with their Iranian counterparts’.

Iran and the US have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980. Therefore, although representatives of both sides were in the same building during the meeting, they did not communicate face-to-face. The process of transmitting the messages there and from was handled by representatives of the Omani government who acted as intermediaries in the talks, one of the US officials told CNN.

Significantly, the Iranian delegation was led by Tehran’s nuclear negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani. This may suggest that an issue other than those directly related to Houthi activities was discussed. Already last summer, the intelligence services of several countries told the media that Iran was continuing to develop nuclear weapons and that progress on producing enriched uranium was ‘close to completion’, which indicates the possibility of conducting the first tests with Weapon A and its production in the future.

Difficult negotiations?

The US State Department told the FT that it ‘has multiple channels through which it can provide Iran with information about the full range of Tehran’s activities in the region’. This may mean that the talks with Iran have not yet yielded any results, that’s why American negotiators also asked Beijing for support ‘in the Houthi case’.

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