This morning (26 February), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on draft resolutions to renew the Yemen sanctions regime. It is expected to vote first on a draft resolution put in blue on Friday (23 February) by the UK, which expresses particular concern about the findings of the Yemen Panel of Experts that Iran is in non-compliance with the arms embargo created in resolution 2216, and further expresses the Council’s intentions to take additional measures to address these violations. A second draft resolution was introduced and put in blue this weekend by Russia that contains only technical amendments to last year’s resolution 2342, which members are expected to vote on if the first draft resolution does not pass. Negotiations over the past week have pitted the UK and US against China and Russia, which have both expressed concerns over the Panel’s conclusions.
For the sanctions renewal, the US has been keen that the Council’s resolution reflects the Panel’s findings about Iran and sends a strong political message about Iranian meddling in the region. The Panel of Experts’ final report (S/2018/68), presented to the Council last month, concluded that Iran was in non-compliance with resolution 2216 for failing to take the necessary measures to prevent the transfer to the Houthi rebels of Iranian-made short range ballistic missiles, related equipment used for missile systems and military unmanned aerial vehicles (AUVs).
This was expected to be a difficult negotiation in light of members’ different views over the Panel's findings. At the 2140 Committee meeting on the Panel’s final report on 23 January, China and Russia were apparently adamant in their view that the panel had not met evidentiary standards expected of UN sanctions experts in order to draw its conclusions, such as a lack of any information on the chain of custody regarding Iranian-made weaponry possessed by the Houthis. The US has contended that the remnants of ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia by the Houthis revealed Iranian technologies and insignia showing that they were made in Iran, and that it is reasonable for the Panel to make such a determination when Iran has not provided the Panel information accounting for how such materials may have ended up in Houthi possession.
The UK started consultations in early February among the P3 on its resolution before circulating a draft to Council members on 16 February. The next day, an op-ed written by US Ambassador Nikki Haley about the Panel’s findings regarding the missiles and the need to “reign in Iran’s behavior” was published in The New York Times. Haley had previously organized a visit of Council members to Washington, D.C. on 30 January during which they viewed missile remnants from the 4 November 2017 attack on Riyadh and other military items alleged to have been supplied by Iran to the Houthis.
The zero draft circulated by the UK included a strong focus on Iran and the ballistic missiles. It condemned Iran’s violation of the arms embargo and Houthi ballistic missile attacks against Saudi Arabia. It also included a decision that Iran’s violations required a further response and that the Council would take additional measures.
When members met for negotiations on 20 February, Russia and China, in expressing objections to the language on Iran, repeated their concerns about the strength of the Panel’s evidence and methodology, and noted that this would not help the political process. Some members appeared to take more of a middle ground, suggesting limiting the language on Iran, or having a technical rollover.
The UK circulated a revised version on 22 February that it placed under silence until the next morning. The draft had only a few changes. On Iran, this was mostly limited to incorporating a proposal by the Netherlands to use the language of the Panel of Experts that found Iran in “non-compliance”, instead of stating that Iran is in violation, of paragraph 14 in resolution 2216—which set up the arms embargo, directing states to prevent the transfer of arms to the Houthis and their allies. Proposals from Sweden and Peru to strengthen paragraphs on humanitarian-related issues were also included.
On Friday (23 February), Russia broke silence, supported by Bolivia and China. This led to the UK circulating a further revised draft, which it placed in blue. The new version has reduced the language related to Iran, including by no longer condemning Iran for violating the arms embargo and endorsing the findings of the Panel’s report. Language was also modified so that the UK draft in blue expresses the intention to address these violations, rather than using more definite language deciding that Iran’s violations require a further response and deciding to take additional measures.
On Saturday (24 February), Russia tabled its own draft resolution to extend the sanctions measures. Noting that its principal concerns had not been addressed, its draft is based on last year’s resolution 2342, with technical amendments to extend the sanctions measures until 26 February 2019 and the mandate of the panel of experts until 28 March 2019. The move seems to set the stage for a possible Russian veto on the UK draft, which would require members to adopt the Russian draft resolution or another text in order to extend the sanctions regime that expires at midnight.
The Council will remain busy with Yemen this week. Tomorrow (27 February) it receives its 60-day briefing from the Special Envoy for Yemen Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed. This will be Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s final briefing, as he is being replaced from March by Martin Griffiths, whose appointment the UN announced on 16 February, in the context of a political process that has remained largely stalled for more than a year. OCHA’s Director of Operations John Ging may also brief, as will Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru) as chair of the 2140 Committee. Members are also expected to continue negotiating a presidential statement this week that is focused on the humanitarian situation.
* Post-script: The Council vote was postponed, as the UK sought to continue negotiations with Russia. The Council convened in the afternoon (S/PV.8190), voting first on the UK draft (S/2018/156), which had two further changes: “taking note with particular concern”, instead of “expressing particular concern”, of the Panel’s findings of Iranian non-compliance with the arms embargo; and removing the paragraph expressing the Council’s intention to take additional measures. Russia vetoed the draft with Bolivia also voting against it, and China and Kazakhstan abstaining. Eleven members voted in favour.
The Council then unanimously adopted the Russian draft resolution (S/RES/2402). The next day (27 February), a joint statement was issued by France, Germany, the UK and the US, expressing grave concerns regarding the Yemen Panel of Experts’ findings and condemning Iran’s non-compliance with the targeted arms embargo, as described by the Panel.