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Iran's Khamenei meets with Houthis after blow for Saudi-led coalition

In first-ever meeting, supreme leader renews support for group and accuses Saudi-led coalition of 'plot' to divide
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam in Tehran on Tuesday (AFP)

Iran's supreme leader held talks for the first time with a senior Houthi official in Tehran on Tuesday, days after the long-running intervention against the rebels by Saudi Arabia and the UAE suffered a major setback.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hosted the group's spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam at his residence after southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates seized the port city of Aden on Saturday.

The defeat for President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi's supporters, who have been backed by Saudi Arabia, exposed the divergent ambitions of the key coalition partners and threatened to weaken their joint struggle against the Houthis.

As tensions have simmered in the south, the Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and much of the north, have stepped up attacks in recent months against targets in Saudi Arabia.

Iran has repeatedly rejected accusations from the United States and its Gulf Arab allies that Tehran provides military and financial support to the group.

'They seek to divide'

In a statement after the talks, Khamenei renewed his support for the group and accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of a "plot" to partition the country.

"Saudi and UAE and their supporters have committed major crimes in Yemen," Khamenei's statement said.

"They seek to divide Yemen. This plot should be strongly resisted and a unified, coherent Yemen with sovereign integrity should be endorsed."

From 1967 until 1990, South Yemen was an independent state. Despite reunification with the Yemeni republic, agitation for independence has continued and has intensified with the war.

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After four and a half years of the Saudi-led intervention in support of Hadi, the Houthis have been routed in the south.

Meanwhile, the UAE has also financed and trained 90,000 fighters and backed the Southern Transitional Council separatist movement whose armed wing captured the presidential palace and military sites in Aden on Saturday.

Khamenei called for talks to stop Yemen being divided.

"Given Yemen’s religious and ethnic diversity, protecting Yemen's integrity requires domestic dialogues," he said.

Khamenei also blasted the "Western world's indifference to crimes committed" in the conflict which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and has left around 20 million Yemenis requiring humanitarian support.

"The Islamic republic's anti-US and anti-West stances are not out of fanaticism," he said.

"Rather, they're based on realities, US politicians' and West's actions, who fake a humane, civilised and ethical appearance while committing the worst crimes and talking about human rights."