Home Ambassador Profiles Yemen ambassador seeks US help to end 10-year civil war

Yemen ambassador seeks US help to end 10-year civil war

Yemen ambassador seeks US help to end 10-year civil war
Yemen's Ambassador to the United States Mohammed Al-Hadhrami

Yemen’s Ambassador to the United States Mohammed Al-Hadhrami was hopeful in early May, despite a 10-year civil war between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition that backs Yemen’s internationally recognized government rumbling on in his country.

The war has killed hundreds of thousands of Yemenis, more of them through hunger, lack of health care and medicine than the conflict itself. The Houthis have also stepped up attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea in response to Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza. But Al-Hadhrami was hopeful that he will be able to get his country’s plight before the right people Congress and convince the United States to help Yemen.

The country is one of the poorest in the Middle East, and its latest civil war, which started in 2014, has created  a severe humanitarian crisis.

A boy sits on the rubble of his home in Taiz, Yemen, in Aug. 2016, two years into the country’s latest civil war. (akramalrasny via Shutterstock)

“We don’t have millions of dollars as Yemenis to spend on PR firms and lobbyists to get our voice to Congress, but we need to have a voice there,” Al-Hadhrami told the Washington Diplomat in an interview conducted at the Yemeni embassy.

“Congress is my gateway to the administration, in terms of changing policy,” he said.

The policy change the ambassador wants to see is for the United States to provide military aid to Yemen’s coalition government, which has been led since 2022 by Rashad Al-Alimi.

The United States has backed the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis since the  latest conflict in Yemen—there have been many since the north and south of the country reunited and became the Republic of Yemen in 1990 – began.

But American lawmakers have expressed concern that U.S.-made weapons that are being given to the Saudi-led coalition could be falling into the hands of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Houthi fighters, who are backed by Iran, the Council on Foreign Relations said in a background paper on Yemen last year.

They may have the same fears about giving military aid, including weapons, directly to Yemen.

Still, Al-Hadhrami insisted that “the U.S. has to have a presence” in Yemen.

“The United States has to have a position, they have to have a presence, they have to really tip the balance… in terms of our fight against the Houthis,” he said. “Because the Iranians have been doing so much to beef up the Houthis.”

Repatriating Yemen’s treasures

Convincing Congress to help Yemen will be no small feat, but Al-Hadhrami has learned during his years as a diplomat to start small and aim high.

He did just that when he set out to stop the theft of valuable artifacts and antiquities from Yemen.

Yemen’s natural riches, including myrrh and incense, made it a trade hub many centuries ago. It is also said to have been the home of the legendary Queen of Sheba, although some say she was more legend than real. Yemenis will tell you that coffee became an international favorite after Dutch sailors smuggled some beans out of Yemen via the port of Mocha, took them to Indonesia and planted them. Before then, Yemeni coffee growers recognized that they were onto a good thing and did not allow the precious beans out of the country.

Time turns everything that survives over centuries into an artifact, and in Yemen’s case, with repeated wars battering the country, many of those treasured objects have been taken out of the country.

More than half of Yemen’s stolen artifacts are thought to be in the United States, Al-Hadhrami said. Two years before he took up his post in Washington, the United States imposed import restrictions on an emergency basis on certain archaeological and ethnological material from Yemen. Seventeen months after Al-Hadhrami became ambassador, the United States and Yemen signed a bilateral cultural property agreement, committing both countries to the fight against the illicit trade of antiquities.

Mark Vlasic, Georgetown University; Yemeni Ambassador Mohammed Al-Hadhrami, and Steve Francis, Acting Executive Associate Director of Homeland Security Investigations, at a ceremony in Feb. 2023, at which artifacts were returned to Yemen. (ICE)

“Reaching this agreement is a critical step to helping the people of Yemen retain and protect their priceless cultural heritage,” the Antiquities Coalition, which leads a global campaign against cultural racketeering, said in a statement.

Last year, 77 artifacts that were confiscated from a New York art dealer or intercepted by U.S. authorities as they were being illegally brought into the United States “entered the custody” of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, during a repatriation ceremony hosted by the Yemeni embassy and U.S. Department of State.

“On behalf of the people and Government of Yemen, we are thrilled to see Yemen retaking ownership of its cultural heritage,” Al-Hadhrami said at the ceremony. “With the current situation in Yemen, it is not the right time to bring the objects back into the country. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is a global leader in the field of cultural heritage and preservation. We are pleased to see these objects in their care.”

Fifteen more artifacts from Yemen are being housed at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

The success of efforts to recover and raise awareness of pilfered artifacts is a victory for a country that has seen very few winning moments.

“You try to change what you can with the means you have,” the ambassador said.

Shift the battle from US forces to Yemenis

Born in Yemen in 1979, Al-Hadhrami got his bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University, a master’s degree in diplomacy and international relations from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2010 and another master’s in 2013, in development policy from the Korean Development Institute. He began his diplomatic career in 2004 and has served in numerous positions in the Yemeni foreign ministry, including as minister of foreign affairs, and abroad, including at the United Nations and at the embassy in D.C.

After his success in recovering stolen artifacts, Al-Hadhrami is focussing on trying to get the White House to take on a bigger role in ending the war in Yemen. His aim is to build lasting peace in a country he admits “is no stranger to coups” and wars.

A view from Yemen of the Red Sea. Houthi rebels, who control parts of Yemen, including the capital, have been targeting international shipping on the Red Sea to show solidarity with the Houthis are using for piracy and targeting ships to show solidarity with Gaza. (Taha Saleh via Shutterstock)

He has advised officials in the Biden administration on numerous occasions to shift  the burden of battle against Houthis attacking international shipping in the Red Sea from American to Yemeni forces, and providing the Yemenis with the resources they need to defeat the Iran-backed rebel group, which controls parts of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa.

Asked if he thinks U.S. attempts to de-escalate tensions in the region and avoid a confrontation with Iran are behind Washington’s apparent reluctance to take up his suggestion, Al-Hadhrami replied, “The United States genuinely wants to help us, the United States genuinely wants to have a peaceful Middle East.”

“I have no doubt they want to see democracy return to Yemen. They support the government and the people of Yemen. And I think their fear of escalating and regionalizing the war in Gaza gets in their way to do so,” he said.



Eric Ham