British foreign secretary visits Yemen, after Tunisia and Jordan

AFP , Wednesday 9 Feb 2011

Britain's foreign secretary continues his Middle East tour amid rising tensions and calls for change

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh (L) greets Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague at the Presidential Palace in Sanaa 9 February 2011. (Reuters)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague discussed political and economic change in Yemen with its president Ali Abdullah Saleh on Wednesday as he continued a tour of Arab states.

"We have discussed issues of political and constitutional reforms (as well as) how to work together for the better economic development of Yemen," said Hague after the meeting in Sanaa.

Hague arrived in Yemen as part of a regional tour that previously took him to Tunisia and Jordan. All three states have seen anti-government protests, with the one in Tunisia triggering regime change.

Yemen's official Saba news agency said Hague welcomed reform initiatives that Saleh announced last week that include freezing proposed constitutional changes that would have enabled the president to stay in power for life.

"Britain stands with a stable, unified and prosperous Yemen," Saba quoted Hague as saying.

Yemen, the poorest Arab state, whose south was ruled by Britain until 1967, faces an Al-Qaeda insurgency, a southern secessionist movement, and a sporadic rebellion by Zaidi Shiites in the north.

In light of the region's most recent developments, Hague warned "belligerent" Israel to tame its rhetoric and said unrest in Arab countries may hinder the peace process, in comments published on Wednesday.

Hague told the London Times that recent popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan could undermine the search for a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and urged the United States to take action.

"Amidst the opportunity for countries like Tunisia and Egypt, there is a legitimate fear that the Middle East peace process will lose further momentum and be put to one side, and will be a casualty of uncertainty in the region," Hague said.

"Part of the fear is that uncertainty and change will complicate the process still further," the foreign secretary, who is on a three-day trip to north Africa and the Middle East, told the newspaper.

"That means there is a real urgency for the Israelis and the US. Recent events mean this is an even more urgent priority and that’s a case we are putting to the Israeli government and in Washington."

The former Conservative party leader reacted strongly to Israel leader Benjamin Netanyahu's call to his nation to be ready for "any outcome" and his promise to "reinforce the might of the state of Israel."

"This should not be a time for belligerent language," Hague argued. "It is a time to inject greater urgency into the Middle East peace process."

Israel's stance on settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories is "disappointing" and peace may become "impossible" within a few years, Hague said.

He also voiced concern over possible conflict between the Israelis and Shia Muslim militant group Hezbollah following last month's collapse of the Lebanese government.

"The scale of any military conflict that may happen between Israel and Hezbollah is growing, because of the growth of armaments in the area," Hague warned.

Hague spoke while travelling to Jordan from Tunisia, where he met members of the country's interim government, including Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi.

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