What's In Blue

Posted Tue 14 Mar 2023

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (15 March), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. The anticipated briefers are UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, and the chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Ferit Hoxha (Albania). The head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary, is expected to brief during the consultations.

Yemen continues to experience its longest lull in fighting since last year’s April 2022 truce agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group, despite sporadic clashes and the agreement’s expiration in early October 2022. Since October, Oman has facilitated talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition in support of the Yemeni government. The ongoing talks are reportedly focused on a potential comprehensive agreement to end the war. Grundberg described the talks as representing “a potential step change” in the eight-year long conflict during his January Council briefing.

In a significant new regional development, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is allied with the Houthis, agreed last week in Beijing to restore diplomatic relations that had been suspended since 2016. Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the agreement, underscoring the importance of good relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia “for the stability of the Gulf region” in a 10 March statement. Grundberg visited Tehran from 11 to 13 March—the trip had been previously scheduled as part of his last round of shuttle diplomacy. At tomorrow’s briefing, he may similarly welcome the agreement and its potential benefits for the region, including Yemen. According to Iran’s state news outlet IRNA, the permanent mission of Iran to the UN said in a statement that the restoration of diplomatic ties “would accelerate” efforts to restore Yemen’s ceasefire, “help start a national dialogue, and form an inclusive national government in Yemen”.

Since Council members last met to discuss Yemen on 15 February in closed consultations, Grundberg has also visited Moscow, Paris and Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi, Grundberg met both with Emirati officials and with the president of Yemen’s separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, who is one of eight members of the Yemeni government’s Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), formed last year to unite the anti-Houthi factions. Grundberg arrived in Riyadh today (14 March), from where he will brief the Council via videoconference tomorrow.

Council members are expected to acknowledge the recent Saudi-Iran agreement. They are also likely to reiterate the importance of the UN Envoy being kept informed of the Houthi-Saudi negotiations, and stress that a sustainable resolution to the conflict requires an inclusive Yemeni political process facilitated by UN mediation. New concerns about a lack of transparency in the Houthi-Saudi talks and the risk of an agreement that does not account for other Yemeni parties’ views were raised by the STC at a 9 March virtual news briefing.

Grundberg is also expected to report tomorrow that this past weekend, on 11 March, the seventh meeting of the Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Detainees’ Exchange Agreement commenced in Switzerland. The Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) chair the committee, which includes the Yemeni government and the Houthis, and is tasked with facilitating the exchange of prisoners as part of the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement. On 11 March, Grundberg expressed hope that the parties are “ready to engage in serious and forthcoming discussions to agree on releasing as many detainees as possible”, especially in light of the upcoming occasion of Ramadan.

Griffiths is expected to report on recent progress in the salvage operation of the FSO Safer, a decrepit oil tanker which is moored off the Ras Isa peninsula in the Red Sea. On 9 March, the UN announced that it has signed an agreement to purchase a “Very Large Crude Carrier” (VLCC) to replace the FSO Safer. The UN-facilitated plan to remove the oil from the FSO Safer and replace the decaying ship, which was announced in May 2022, had been delayed in recent months as the UN has said that it could not begin the salvage operation until it secured the replacement vessel for the FSO Safer.

Achim Steiner, the administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which is leading the plan’s implementation, said at a 9 March press conference with Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly that the VLCC is being refitted in China to serve as a floating storage and offloading vessel. The ship is expected to reach the Red Sea by early May, whereupon the operation can start. Steiner stressed, however, that there is the risk of a further delay if the UN does not obtain the additional $34 million required for the operation. Current pledged funds total $95 million, of which $75 million have been received, out of the $129 million required for the “emergency phase” of the operation, according to a 9 March UN statement. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may call on donors, including the private sector, to fill the funding gap; they may note that an oil spill from the FSO Safer would not only trigger an environmental and humanitarian emergency but could cost billions in global trade losses every day. Griffiths may also emphasise the need for additional donor funding for aid efforts in Yemen after the 27 February pledging conference in Geneva for Yemen’s 2023 humanitarian response plan raised only $1.2 billion of the $4.3 billion that the UN is seeking in order to assist 17.3 million people this year.

Ambassador Hoxha will provide an update on the work of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee. On 15 February, the Security Council adopted resolution 2675, extending the Yemen asset freeze and travel ban sanctions measures until 15 November 2023 and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 15 December 2023. On 20 February, the 2140 Committee met with the Yemen Panel of Experts to consider its final report covering the period 6 December 2021 to 30 November 2022.

Deviating from the practice in past years, resolution 2675 was a short one-page text, or a “technical rollover”, of the Yemen sanctions regime. The UK, as penholder, proposed the technical rollover to give space to the Houthi-Saudi peace talks and to avoid potential changes that could expand the sanctions and negatively affect the talks. The nine-month extension, instead of the customary one-year renewal, allows Council members to consider amendments to the sanctions regime later this year if these talks prove unsuccessful. Resolution 2675 requests the Yemen Panel of Experts to provide a midterm update to the 2140 Committee no later than 15 June and a final report no later than 15 October. In 2022, the Yemen Panel of Experts operated with only four of its five members, as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) objected to candidates that the UN Secretariat proposed for the panel’s regional expert. In his briefing, Hoxha might note that during 2022, the 2140 Committee added three Houthi officials to the Yemen sanctions list, bringing the number of individuals and entities sanctioned under the regime to 13.

Some members may refer to the latest reported interdiction of a suspected arms transfer from Iran to the Houthis, which would violate the Council’s arms embargo against the group. In a 2 March statement, the UK announced that on 23 February its navy had seized anti-tank missiles and missile components from a small boat in the Gulf of Oman that had departed from Iran. This is the fifth such interdiction carried out by France, the UK, or the US since November 2022.

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