Russian envoy criticizes 15-member body for indecision in face of humanitarian crisis.
The U.N. Security Council was unable on Friday to agree on a Russian-drafted statement demanding an immediate ceasefire or at least humanitarian pauses in the fighting in Yemen.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized the 15-member council, saying fellow envoys showed “amazing indecision” in the face of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen. “If you cannot agree to a motherhood-and-apple-pie statement, what can you agree on? I don’t understand,” Churkin told reporters following the behind-closed-door meeting.
Russia had requested the urgent meeting after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that fuel shortages were threatening to bring all relief operations to a halt “within days.” A Saudi-led air campaign launched a month ago in Yemen has crippled deliveries of fuel, food and medicine while all airports are closed to civilian traffic and naval shipments are delayed.
Diplomats said the Russian statement appealing for action was not rejected out of hand but that the delegations needed time to consider the wording.
“There was a strong degree of council agreement on the desperate humanitarian situation in Yemen and need to return to political talks, but no agreement in the room on the exact working of the statement,” said a diplomat.
Russia’s diplomacy has been greeted with some suspicion given the country’s close ties to Iran, which is supporting the Houthi rebels who have seized the capital Sanaa and forced Yemen’s president into exile.
A U.S. diplomat said Washington supports humanitarian pauses and was urging Saudi Arabia to take measures to ensure aid deliveries reach civilians trapped in the fighting. “But let’s be clear—it is the ongoing, unilateral actions of Houthis and forces loyal to former president [Ali Abdullah] Saleh that are responsible for the humanitarian crisis,” he added.
Senior U.N. official Jeffrey Feltman told the council that the new U.N. envoy for Yemen will travel to the region next week for talks on advancing prospects for a return to peace negotiations, diplomats said. It will be Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s first visit to capitals in the Gulf and Middle East since he was appointed as peace envoy for Yemen on April 25.
The Mauritanian diplomat was appointed to replace Jamal Benomar, who resigned after losing the support of Gulf states. Talks collapsed after the Shia Houthi rebels went on the offensive, seizing Sanaa and advancing on Aden, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee into exile to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-led coalition launched the air war on Yemen on March 26 to prevent the Houthi rebels from taking the entire territory and to restore Hadi’s authority.
Churkin accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of showing little interest in a return to peace talks. “We support negotiations but we don’t see an interest on the part of those who are engaged in bombing,” Churkin said.
U.N. efforts to resume peace negotiations for Yemen have run into hurdles over disagreements on the venue for the talks, with Gulf countries insisting they be held in Riyadh.
Churkin said the talks should take place in “neutral territory,” suggesting Geneva as a venue, a proposal backed by other Security Council members. Diplomats said Feltman told the council that Ban was considering holding an international peace conference on Yemen to re-launch talks.