Iran’s controversial former president is reportedly set to offer to negotiate a peace settlement between warring groups in Yemen, but he may find no takers in either the Arabian Peninsula or his own government.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a one-time firebrand who served as Iran’s president from 2005 to 2013, plans to send letters to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the leader of Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, offering to mediate an end of the conflict, several Iranian news websites cited an informed source close to the former official as saying.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched a war in Yemen in 2015 after the Iranian-backed Houthi militia took control of the country’s capital, Sanaa, from the internationally recognised government. The conflict has since turned the country into the world’s most dire humanitarian crises, according to the UN.
According to the source close to Mr Ahamadinejad, the letters would be followed by the formation of a mediation commission that would oversee peace talks. Citing an unnamed source, Independent Persian journalist and scholar Arash Azizi said Mr Ahmadinejad had asked former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammad to join the mediation panel.
Mr Ahmadinejad’s letters have yet to be publicly released. But a senior official of the internationally recognised Yemeni government, now based in the city of Aden, quickly dismissed any talks.
“The best thing Iran could do to Yemen is to stay away from Yemen and to stop their support for the Houthis,” Yemeni foreign minister Mohammed al-Hadhrami told the Independent.
It also remains unclear if Mr Ahmadinejad understands the extraordinary complexity of Yemen’s conflicts, which include battles between UAE-backed southern separatists and the pro-Saudi government in Aden and a military effort to defeat Al Qaeda’s local branch.
Mr Ahmadinejad, the first non-cleric to become president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, also lacks credibility in his own country. He was a noisy populist hardliner in office but managed to alienate both reformists and conservatives with his disruptive foreign and domestic policies. Under his presidency Iran drastically expanded its nuclear programme and increased hostility with the west while damaging Iran’s economy with pricey handouts that fuelled inflation.
During his presidency, he frequently wrote letters to world leaders requesting dialogue, but was frequently ignored.
At 63, Mr Ahmadinejad, who is also a former mayor of Tehran, has been struggling to redefine himself and remain in the public limelight.
His attempt to run for the presidency in 2017 was thwarted by the Council of Guardians, which vets Iranian candidates for national office. He has sought to generate buzz through social media, praising professional athletes, quoting American rap stars and commenting on world affairs.
“What sin have the people of Kashmir, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and the people of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans and those of the South Side of Chicago committed to live under such an inhuman world system of governance?” he wrote last year on Twitter.
Some analysts have suggested Mr Ahmadinejad may be preparing a 2021 presidential bid. Earlier this week he decried a potential long-term deal between Iran and China, saying it would allow Beijing to economically exploit the country.