Russia vetoes UN resolution on Iran; US threatens unilateral action

Updated February 28, 2018

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SAADA (Yemen): A boy looks at dust rising from the site of air strikes on Tuesday. UN experts have blamed Iran for failing to prevent its weapons from falling into the hands of Houthi rebels.—Reuters
SAADA (Yemen): A boy looks at dust rising from the site of air strikes on Tuesday. UN experts have blamed Iran for failing to prevent its weapons from falling into the hands of Houthi rebels.—Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: Russia vetoed a British-drafted UN resolution on Monday that took aim at Iran over a report by UN experts that said the country violated an arms embargo by failing to prevent missiles and drones from being supplied to Shia rebels in Yemen.

The vote in the Security Council was 11 in favour, Russia and Bolivia opposed, and China and Kazakhstan abstaining.

Britain sought to focus attention on a report in January by the UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions against Iran that examined missile remnants fired into Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels last year and said many “are consistent with those of the Iranian designed and manufactured Qiam-1 missile”.

It concluded that Iran was in “non-compliance” with the 2015 UN arms embargo on Yemen because it failed “to take the necessary measures” to prevent the direct or indirect supply of missiles and drones to the Houthis.

Britain’s deputy UN ambassador Jonathan Allen urged council member not to “shy away from calling out those whose actions undermine international peace and security.”

“This council needs to stand firm in the face of state non-compliance and send a clear message that it will not be tolerated,” he said.

To try to get Russian support, Britain first dropped a condemnation of Iran in the text. And during last-minute negotiations it dropped a promise of “additional measures” against violators of the arms embargo, and it also softened language from “expressing concern” to “taking note with particular concern” of the experts’ findings.

But Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia wasn’t satisfied. He accused Britain of sowing “discord at a time when the Security Council is in dire need of closing its ranks” by bringing the resolution to a vote knowing it would be vetoed.

Nebenzia called the panel’s “selective and contentious conclusions” unverified and uncorroborated. And he warned that the resolution’s adoption would have “dangerous, destabilising ramifications” in Yemen and the region.

“This will inevitably escalate regional tensions and lead to conflicts among key regional players,” he told the council, warning of the “grave danger in toying with geopolitical maps” and antagonising relations in the Middle East between Sunnis and Shias.

Yemen, the Arab world’s most impoverished country with a population of 26 million, plunged into war in 2014 after the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa and forced the internationally recognised government to flee and seek support from neighbouring Gulf countries.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led, US-backed coalition began what has turned into a devastating war that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 2 million, and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as an Iranian proxy.

Kelley Currie, the US ambassador for economic and social affairs, said the council’s failure to pass the British resolution “set back our collective efforts to promote peace in Yemen”.

“Today, Russia accused the majority of this council of attempting to destabilise the region by supporting the UK’s text,” she said. “This is perverse when, in fact, Russia’s veto today serves only to protect Iran’s efforts to destabilise the region and spread its malign influence.”

Instead of demanding accountability from Iran, Currie told the council that Russia, Bolivia, China and Kazakhstan “decided to shield Tehran from responsibility.”

The United States threatened unilateral action against Iran after the Russian veto. US Ambassador Nikki Haley, who was flying to Central America, warned in a statement: “If Russia is going to use its veto to block action against Iran’s dangerous and destabilising conduct, then the United States and our partners will need to take actions against Iran that the Russians cannot block.”

She did not specify what kind of action could be taken.

The Russian veto was a defeat for the United States, which has been lobbying for months for Iran to be held accountable at the United Nations, while at the same time threatening to quit a 2015 deal among world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear programme if “disastrous flaws” are not fixed.

Iran’s UN Mission reiterated Monday that it “categorically rejects allegations regarding arms transfer to Yemen.”

“Today, US and UK attempted to misuse Security Council procedures to advance their political agenda and put the blame of all that has happened in Yemen on Iran by pushing an unwarranted draft resolution,” the mission said in a statement.

Iran accused the US and UK of being “the major military supporters of the war of aggression against Yemen.” The British-drafted resolution would also have extended sanctions on Yemen, which expired Monday, and the mandate of the panel of experts.

Immediately after the British draft was vetoed, a rival Russian draft was put to a vote.

It made no mention of Iran or the panel of experts’ report but simply extended sanctions against Yemen until Feb. 26, 2019 and the mandate of the panel of experts until March 28, 2019. That resolution was adopted unanimously.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018