ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday Pakistan and Iran should cooperate to solve the deepening crisis in war-ravaged Yemen.
Zarif spoke during a two-day visit to the Pakistani capital in which he was expected to urge Islamabad to reject a Saudi request that it join a military operation against Shi’ite Muslim Houthi forces in Yemen.
“We need to work together to find a political solution,” he said. “It’s the Yemenis who should sit at the table to solve the crisis and everybody including Iran and Saudi Arabia should facilitate.”
“The people of Yemen should not have to face aerial bombardment,” he added, referring to air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition that started last month.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan to send planes, boats and troops to the operation.
Pakistani lawmakers have been debating the request for the past three days, and not one has spoken in favor of intervention in Yemen.
“The consensus that is emerging in parliament is that Pakistan should not participate in any military offensive. We should try to mediate, influence and facilitate peaceful dialogue,” said Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s adviser on security and foreign affairs.
Zarif said he favored a four-part plan for Yemen: to impose a ceasefire, deliver humanitarian assistance, open a broad-based dialogue and finally establish a broad-based government. He recommended this to Pakistani, Turkish and Omani leaders, he said.
Many fear the conflict could become a proxy battleground for a sectarian war. Iran, a Shi’ite theocracy, has links to some of the rebels being bombed by Saudi Arabia, the center of Sunni power.
The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday accused Iran of meddling in Yemen and other conflicts in the Muslim world with the aim of “exporting the (Iranian) revolution”.
Zarif did not address those comments, but warned that militant Sunni Islamist groups were benefiting from Yemen’s chaos.
“Al Qaeda and Daesh (Islamic State) are ... fighting in order to seize control,” he said.
The United Nations says Yemen faces a humanitarian emergency and that schools, hospitals, and water and power infrastructure have been damaged by air strikes.
More than 540 people have been killed in the last two weeks, the U.N. said. Most were civilians, including 74 children.
So far, Sunni-majority Pakistan has delayed giving a clear answer to Saudi Arabia’s request. The two countries are close allies, and last year Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan $1.5 billion dollars. Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia send home billions of dollars a year in remittances.
But Pakistan does not want to anger neighboring Iran, with whom it shares a long and porous border in a region roiled by a separatist insurgency.
Reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Andrew Roche