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Volume 506: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2010

2. What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Yemen; and if he will make a statement. (319383)

The recent ceasefire in northern Yemen offers hope for a longer-term, political settlement between the rebels and the Government. However, tensions continue to run high in the south. Yemen also faces a growing terrorist threat. The London meeting of 27 January galvanised international support for the Government of Yemen's reform efforts, which are essential to address Yemen's challenges and ensure its long-term stability.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Can he tell the House the outcome of the Gulf Co-operation Council meeting held in Riyadh last month? Can he elucidate the current position on Yemen?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the key outcomes of the Friends of Yemen meeting in London was that the Gulf Co-operation Council should play a more proactive role in helping economic and other development in Yemen. At the meeting in Riyadh on 27 and 28 February there was agreement not only to a more intensive process of GCC engagement with Yemen for the first time, but to bring forward the aid flows that were promised in the 2006 London conference, which in 90 per cent. or so of cases have not yet been delivered.

Before the usual suspects send foreign troops blundering into a fourth Islamic country, will the Foreign Secretary draw their attention to the fact that the northern frontier of the Yemen is only 360 miles from Mecca, that the two main land routes for pilgrims on the Hajj cross its territory, that thousands of Yemenis fought against the Russians in Afghanistan, and that very large numbers of their offspring work in the oil states of the Gulf?

I am very disappointed to have to agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has spoken with characteristic force but uncharacteristic accuracy in describing all the points. His warnings are well made. I note his commitment in respect of the role that Yemenis play throughout this country, including in South Shields, the historic centre of the Yemeni population in Britain, and I commend him for his views on the topic.

I declare my interest in welcoming the steps that have been taken so far, including the visit to Yemen by my hon. Friend the Minister of State and the lobbying of the GCC. Is it not important that we now have a fresh initiative? Given the strong personal relationship between the Secretary of State and Mrs. Clinton—I think that she last described him as “vibrant and attractive”—is it not appropriate for a joint visit to be made to Yemen? The German Foreign Minister has been there. I know that the Secretary of State sent his Minister of State, but a joint initiative between the United States and the UK could help the whole process.

Needless to say I have thought of many places for a joint visit with the Secretary of State and I shall certainly bear in mind the attractions of Yemen. To be serious, the Yemeni Government have taken some important measures since the 27 January meeting. For example, they have reduced fuel subsidies by about 9 per cent., arrested a major alleged arms dealer, removed an allegedly corrupt governor and, of course, brokered the ceasefire with the Houthi rebels. We should support such initiatives and will do so through the sort of visit that my right hon. Friend suggested and in any other way possible.