Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Yemen

Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 15, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President, and I want to thank Martin and Mark for your insightful, but sobering briefings. Mark, your closing gave a heartbreaking, human face to what we are discussing today, and the challenges that we have been seeking to address for some time. In that, I wanted to also make clear, as we have in each of our monthly meetings, the United States strongly supports your and Martin’s efforts and will continue to do so.

In that vein, the United States urges the Government of the Republic of Yemen and the Houthis to work with Special Envoy Griffiths towards agreement on the final draft of the Joint Declaration. We regret that this process has not yet made more progress. The Yemeni people, as we just heard so clearly – struggling with an economic crisis, food insecurity, fuel shortages, COVID-19, and an enduring conflict – deserve such a step forward toward stability and security.

But as we well know, another destabilizing force is through the Islamic Republic of Iran, who holds little interest in fostering stability and security in Yemen – or anywhere else in the region. Just the opposite: Iran continues to send lethal aid to the Houthis, fueling the Houthis’ ongoing offensive near Marib, and the larger conflict. On August 20, the United States initiated the process that will restore virtually all UN sanctions on Iran, which had been lifted under paragraph 7(a) of Resolution 2231.

As Secretary Pompeo said on that day, “the United States will never allow the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism to freely buy and sell planes, tanks, missiles, and other kinds of conventional weapons. These UN sanctions will continue the arms embargo.” The arms embargo is an essential component in our effort to curb Tehran’s destabilizing actions in Yemen, as well as against its neighbors. We have said it before and we’ll say it again today: this Council is utterly failing in its mission to maintain international peace and security by allowing Iran to maintain and expand its destabilizing activity in the region unhindered.

The Houthis’ unconscionable, persistent cross-border aerial attacks destroying civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, including recently on Abha airport, are additional evidence of the urgent need to maintain the embargo and push back against further Iranian encroachment.

We are encouraged by the resumption of cabinet formation discussions between the Southern Transitional Council and the Republic of Yemen Government, and we strongly urge both parties to continue progress on Riyadh Agreement implementation. In particular, swift cabinet formation is urgently needed so that the Government can work as a unified body to respond to the needs of the Yemeni people, and can work most effectively with the Special Envoy on the political process.

Turning specifically to the humanitarian situation, the United States shares the concerns expressed today over the major funding gaps for aid operations this year and the potential implications of the deteriorating economic outlook for worsening food insecurity.

The Trump Administration has contributed more than $1.3 billion in humanitarian assistance to Yemen over the past two years. Even with this partial suspension of certain assistance operations in Houthi-controlled areas of northern Yemen due to Houthi interference, we remain the largest single donor to Yemen’s humanitarian response this year.

We urge our partners and other donor nations, including those in the region, to step up, contribute, and help fulfill the Humanitarian Response Plan’s request. We urge donors who have not yet disbursed their 2020 pledges to do so expeditiously, as well as to consider additional financial support to help stabilize the Yemeni currency and allow continued flows of essential commercial imports.

We also reiterate our call on the Houthis to cease obstruction of and interference in aid operations. Our partners must be able to independently assess needs and respond in line with humanitarian principles. The unhindered flow of essential goods into and throughout Yemen is more vital than ever, given the increasing food insecurity plaguing so many Yemenis.

The United States notes with serious concern the Houthis’ decision to manufacture a fuel shortage in northern Yemen, choosing profit over the lives of Yemenis. Let us be clear: the decrease in fuel imports through Hudaydah port in recent months was caused by Houthi misappropriation of fuel tax and customs receipts from the Central Bank of Yemen that were supposed to have funded government salaries in northern Yemen. The current shortages would not exist were it not for this inexcusable Houthi fraud.

We call on the Houthis and the Republic of Yemen Government to expeditiously agree to the Special Envoy’s request to hold discussions on fuel imports and associated revenue disbursements. In the interim, we thank the Government for facilitating the entry of oil tankers into the Hudaydah port – including two earlier this month – despite the Houthi’s unfailing intransigence, so that Yemenis can get the fuel they need.

We also call on the Houthis to reverse their announced decision to close Sana’a airport to the UN and other international relief aircraft as a result of this crisis of their own making. This is simply another example of Houthi extortion using international assistance. And meanwhile, the Yemeni people continue to suffer. This is inexcusable.

We urge the Houthis to cease their continuous assault on religious freedom and we demand the immediate and unconditional release of Yemeni citizen Levi Salem Musa Marhabi. Mr. Marhabi has been wrongfully detained by the Houthis for four years, despite a Houthi quote-unquote “court” ordering his release in September 2019. His health continues to deteriorate as he languishes in a Sana’a prison, where the threat of contracting COVID-19 is all too real. Mr. Marhabi is one member of an ever-shrinking community of Yemeni Jews, who have been an important part of Yemen’s diverse social fabric for thousands of years. The Houthis must respect the freedom of religion and refrain from oppressing members of minority groups.

Finally, as other colleagues have highlighted, we continue to monitor the Safer oil tanker and the grave environmental, economic, and humanitarian dangers posed by a potential spill. We call on the Houthis to approve – once and for all – the UN’s mission plan for the Safer assessment and to live up to their commitments and permit UN technical teams immediate and unconditional access to the deteriorating vessel.

Thank you, Mr. President.