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Saudi Crown Prince MBS ‘wants out’ of Yemen war

Leaked emails show Mohammed bin Salman expressing desire to end conflict during talks with former US officials.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has told two former American officials that he “wants out” of the two-year war he started in Yemen, and that he is not against US rapprochement with Iran, according to leaked emails published by Middle East Eye.

The revelation sheds light on the thinking of Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the 31-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, also known as MBS.

The leaks pertain to discussions he held on the Middle East with Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, and Steven Hadley, who served as US national security adviser during George W Bush’s presidency.

The conversation took place at least one month before Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, accusing it of trying to undermine their war in Yemen and for having friendly relations with Iran.

The details of the meeting between MBS and the former American officials were revealed in an email exchange, between Indyk and Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador in Washington, DC.

The email exchange was obtained by the GlobalLeaks campaign group, according to Middle East Eye.

MBS’s doubts about Decisive Storm further undermines the position of the Yemeni president in exile, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in whose name the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis and their allies was launched.

In one email, Otaiba and Indyk can be seen discussing the difference between the young MBS and the elder leadership of Saudi Arabia, with the former describing him as a “pragmatic leader”.

The emails also paint a picture of how Otaiba and the UAE leadership view the future Saudi Arabia.

‘Emirati imperialism’

The emails further reveal conversations between Otaiba and Elliott Abrams, former Bush administration official and pro-Israel hawk, who describes the UAE’s objectives in the region as the “new hegemon” and “Emirati imperialism”.

The conflict in Yemen has escalated dramatically since March 2015, when Saudi-led forces launched a military operation against the Iran-allied Houthi fighters.

Since the conflict began, more than 10,000 people have been killed and millions have been driven from their homes.

The Saudi-led operation has been blamed for the spread of cholera in Yemen, where an estimated 500,000 have been reportedly afflicted.

In the exchange, Indyk was quoted as telling Otaiba that MBS made it “quite clear” to him and Hadley that “he is OK with the US engaging Iran as long as it is co-ordinated [sic] in advance and the objectives are clear.”

Indyk was contacted by Middle East Eye and presented with the substance of his email exchange with Otaiba. He refused to comment.

Otaiba did not reply to Middle East Eye’s request for comment.

Hadley said: “I cannot comment on what was a private conversation.”

The revelations come a day after Qasim al-Araji, Iraq’s interior minister, reportedly said that both Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and MBS had asked Baghdad to act as an intermediary and  help mend relations between Riyadh and Tehran.

On July 30, MBS met Muqtada al-Sadr during the influential Iraqi Shia leader’s rare visit to Saudi Arabia.

Separately, Sadr visited the UAE on Sunday, and met with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of UAE, and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Sadr’s diplomacy

Sadr, an anti-American figure, commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and the southern cities, including Saraya al-Salam, or Peace Brigades armed group.

He is now seen as a nationalist who has repeatedly called for protests against corruption in the Iraqi government, and his supporters have staged huge protests in Baghdad calling for electoral reform.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Sunday, Saad Jawad, a political science professor at the London School of Economics, termed the Saudi-Iraqi diplomatic moves “odd”.

“If Saudi Arabia is [in a dispute] with Qatar about Qatar’s relationship with Iran … how could they ask the Iraqis to amend their relations with Iran?

“The Saudis know very well that Iraq is a little bit biased in [its] relations with the Iranians, and they are under the influence of the Iranians.”

Jawad said Saudi Arabia could have asked a more neutral broker such as Kuwait or Oman, both of which have “good relations” with Iran.