Iranian national flags fly along a highway in Tehran, Iran. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Iran Says Ready to Discuss Yemen Conflict With European Nations

(Bloomberg) -- Iran will be holding a new round of talks with Europe on the Yemen conflict, negotiations that have taken on greater significance as the sides try to salvage a nuclear agreement.

European diplomats have been pressing Iran to curb its direct and indirect involvement in conflicts across the Middle East, including the civil war in Yemen, where it is backing Shiite Houthi rebels. Now that the U.S. has pulled out of the nuclear accord, jeopardizing its viability by reinstating sanctions, Yemen could be an area where the Europeans may be able to win concessions from Iran.

“We have said many times: the nuclear program isn’t related to any other matter,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told local TV late Sunday, according to state media. “We won’t enter into negotiations on missiles or the region -- aside from Yemen,” because of the humanitarian crisis there, he added.

Araghchi indicated that any negotiations would be held in parallel to the nuclear consultations and led by a different Iranian team.

“Iran, like the EU, is unlikely to want to mix fate of the nuclear deal with that of talks on other issues,” said Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “At the same time, it is important for them to keep a channel of communication open with the EU, whatever happens on the nuclear deal, and the best dossier to do so is Yemen for them.”

Yemen is one of several battlegrounds where the proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran is playing out. Saudi Arabia has been leading a military coalition against the rebels for more than three years, and in recent months, has accused the Houthis of attacking its territory with missiles supplied by Iran. Tehran denies the charge.

The war has created a humanitarian calamity of disease, hunger and displacement. At least 5,300 Yemenis have died in more than three years of fighting, most as a result of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, which has received U.S. backing.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.