Yemen: VTC Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (12 May), Security Council members will hold their monthly briefing and consultations on Yemen via videoconference (VTC). Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock are expected to brief. General Abhijit Guha, who heads the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), is expected to brief Council members during consultations following the open session.
The Houthi rebel group continues its offensive to take Marib governorate, a main source of Yemen’s oil and gas reserves and the government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen, despite intensified diplomatic engagement since February to establish a ceasefire and restart peace talks.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Griffiths is likely to refer to his recent efforts to broker a ceasefire agreement. He may describe his visit, together with the US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking, to Riyadh and Muscat on 29 and 30 April. Talks have continued to focus on a proposal for a nationwide ceasefire, accompanied by the re-opening of Sana’a airport and the lifting of restrictions on shipping through the Hodeidah ports, to be followed by the resumption of political talks.
However, this latest push towards an agreement was unsuccessful, as the Houthis, whose chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam is based in Oman, refused to meet with Griffiths, according to a 7 April press statement by the US State Department. In a 5 April statement, the Special Envoy’s office noted that “[u]nfortunately, we are not where we would like to be in reaching a deal”, following the recent round of meetings.
If Marib governorate falls, the Yemeni government’s position in any future negotiations would be significantly undermined, and Griffiths could recall the threat that the Houthi campaign poses to a future peace process. He may also repeat his call for the parties to meet face to face after more than a year of ceasefire talks through shuttle diplomacy. Griffiths might highlight the roles of Saudi Arabia and Oman in mediation efforts, as he did during his last briefing to the Council, which took place on 15 April. Saudi Arabia announced in March that it was proposing a similar ceasefire plan to that of Griffiths’ proposal in a strong expression of its support for the initiative. Meanwhile, according to media reports, Saudi Arabia held talks with Iran—which is allied with the Houthis—on 9 April in Iraq, during which Yemen featured prominently. This was the first time Saudi Arabia and Iran have met since severing relations in 2016. A second round of talks is planned for this month, according to media reports.
Lowcock is likely to reiterate that the fighting in Marib threatens to worsen the humanitarian crisis, especially if it triggers mass civilian displacement. More than a million internally displaced persons live in Marib governorate, having fled other parts of Yemen. Fighting in recent months has spilled over into some of the displaced persons camps outside Marib City, the capital of Marib governorate. Houthi missiles have also targeted Marib City and the UN has reported that over 20,000 people have been displaced since February.
Lowcock may emphasise that the conflict is driving the threat of famine, affecting millions of Yemenis, and the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, and express disappointment over the stalled ceasefire talks and escalation in Marib. He is also likely to highlight the funding shortage for relief efforts. The Yemen response plan faces a $2.53 billion funding gap, having received only $1.32 billion this year. Among other issues, Lowcock may provide an update on the fuel shortage in northern Yemen caused by the government’s withholding of clearances for fuel shipments into Hodeidah, which has driven up food costs.
Several Council members are likely to express concern about the Houthis’ continued push to take Marib. They may also express frustration with the continued delays that the Houthis are imposing towards addressing the situation of the FSO Safer oil tanker, which is moored in the Red Sea and threatens to cause a major environmental disaster if an oil spill occurs. Council members have condemned the ongoing escalation in Marib and the cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia on several occasions in recent months, including in their press statements on Yemen of 18 March and 16 April and in resolution 2564 of 25 February that renewed the Yemen sanctions regime. The 16 April press statement and resolution 2564 also stressed Houthi responsibility for the situation of the FSO Safer and underscored the need for the Houthis to facilitate the UN’s unconditional access to the tanker.
Overall, Council members appear to be united in their support for the Special Envoy and his mediation efforts. The US appointment in February of Lenderking as a Special Envoy appears to have invigorated international efforts to resolve the conflict. His latest regional visit included two meetings with the P5 ambassadors to Yemen. During negotiations on Council products on Yemen, Russia often raises concerns about criticising or singling out the Houthis, suggesting that this could give the appearance of Council bias– a dynamic which has played out several times this year.
In other developments, Reuters and Foreign Policy reported today that the UN Secretary-General will name Griffiths as the UN’s new humanitarian relief coordinator to replace Lowcock, whose departure has been anticipated. The UN declined to comment according to the reports about the plans.