Briefing and Consultations on Yemen’s Political Crisis
Tomorrow morning (12 February), the Council will have a briefing followed by consultations on the ongoing political crisis and rapidly deteriorating security situation in Yemen. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who has just returned from the region where he visited Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates from 7 to 9 February will brief. His Special Adviser, Jamar Benomar, will brief via video tele-conference from Sana’a. Ambassador Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani (Qatar) is expected to make a statement on behalf of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. Council members were scheduled to be briefed in consultations today (11 February) but apparently Benomar suggested that a one day delay would allow him to provide more information. A request by Jordan for a public meeting also resulted in a briefing-followed-by-consultations format. The meeting takes place ahead of the Council’s negotiations on a resolution to renew the Yemen sanctions regime before it expires on 26 February.
At press time, it seemed that Council members were discussing a possible outcome following tomorrow’s discussion. It was unclear at press time if this would be in the form of a press statement or something stronger. Over the last two days Council members have had several meetings with representatives of GCC countries in New York who presented a draft resolution on behalf of the GCC condemning the Houthis’ actions, and making a number of demands of the group, such as withdrawing their forces from government institutions and all regions under their control. It also demands compliance with the GCC Initiative, National Dialogue Conference (NDC) Outcomes and the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA), while declaring the Council’s readiness to take further steps in case of non-compliance. While most members apparently responded favourably to the text, the initial draft contained language that would likely be unacceptable to other members, including Russia, which during negotiations on recent Council statements on Yemen, opposed language singling out the Houthis. It seems members of the GCC were meeting this afternoon to decide whether to move forward on the draft.
The most recent example of these difficulties within the Council occurred last Friday (6 February) when it met on Yemen under “Any Other Business” following the Houthis’ announcement earlier in the day to dissolve parliament and establish a new government. The UK initially sought to issue a press statement. Russia objected, arguing that it did not have enough information on actual developments in Yemen and that it had not received instructions from capital. Russia eventually agreed to the “press elements” based on the UK’s text after replacing language that would have condemned the Houthis’ unilateral action earlier in the day with language expressing grave concern over the group’s announcement. If Council members choose to issue a press statement tomorrow it is likely to be similar to the Friday’s “press elements”, which expressed the Council’s grave concern over the Houthi announcement; called for all parties, including the Houthis, to abide by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative, NDC outcomes and the PNPA; and declared members’ readiness to take further steps if UN-led negotiations are not immediately resumed. (Press statements and press elements are not official Council documents and are often used when members are unable to agree on a stronger outcome.)
During the meeting tomorrow members will be keen to get the latest information on the negotiations that Benomar is mediating in order to form a new government. On Sunday (8 February), Yemeni parties and the Houthis agreed to return to talks, which resumed Monday and have since been continuing. A power vacuum has existed since the 22 January resignations of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the cabinet of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah.
In a statement released on Monday, Benomar noted that negotiations resumed “from the point where they had stopped on Thursday 5 February”, and that a number of options were being discussed regarding governing arrangements. Council members are keen to learn more about the options being considered. Generally, the options have revolved around two tracks: following the process outlined in the existing constitution or forming a presidential council—the latter of which Benomar seemed to prefer when he briefed the Council on 26 January. Some members may seek clarification on the status of the Houthis’ plan for a government, and how this is factoring into the resumed negotiations.
Following the Secretary-General’s remarks to the press made in Saudi Arabia that Hadi should be restored to the presidency, some Council members may also inquire whether there is a renewed push to convince the former president to withdraw his resignation. Because Yemen figured prominently in the Secretary-General’s meetings with officials during his visit to the region, members may ask him to share details of these discussions.
Some members will likely stress the need for the current talks to be inclusive, and for the Houthis to remain committed to negotiations and any agreement reached. Regarding the Houthis, members may be interested in Benomar’s assessment of their resolve and ability to engage in the political discussion, as the group is seen as repeatedly failing to respect their commitments. They may inquire about the relationship between the group’s political and military branches. Council members will additionally be interested in the positions of Yemen’s different parties regarding the talks, including major parties such as Al-Islah, which is Yemen’s Islamist party, and the General People’s Congress, the party of former president Abdullah Ali Saleh. The role of regional players will also likely be discussed in tomorrow’s meeting, particularly that of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, members will look forward to discussing possible next steps for the Council.
So far, the Council’s two main tools have been to support Benomar’s good offices and relevant political agreements, along with targeted sanctions. Members could ask Benomar if there are specific actions that the Council could take, beyond expressing support for any new agreement. In this regard, some members may again ask Benomar for his views on further sanctions, though in recent meetings, he has responded that this would be a decision for the Council. On the other hand, most members do not think that the Council would be able to reach agreement on new designations or sanctions due to Russia’s likely opposition. The 2140 Sanctions Committee met with the Yemen Panel of Experts (PoE) regarding its final report last week. It seems that some members were critical of the report for not making more specific recommendations, other than an arms embargo on Yemen, which is unlikely to receive the full Council’s support.
During consultations, besides discussion on resolving the current political vacuum, other issues likely to be raised include the fragile security situation and terrorism, the economic and humanitarian situations and risk of southern secession. In addition, there may be questions about the US, UK and France’s decision over the last few days to close their embassies.
The discussion tomorrow will also feed into members’ upcoming consideration of renewing sanctions and the PoE’s mandate. While the renewal of sanctions measures as such is seen as straightforward, agreeing to language on the political situation may prove to be more difficult, especially in light of the fluid situation and with the Council needing to adopt the resolution by 26 February. There apparently has been some discussion about the possibility of adopting two resolutions: one that would renew the sanctions measures and mandate of the PoE, and another that would focus on the political track, allowing the Council to have more time to work on and negotiate such a text.