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

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 18, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Special Envoy Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General Lowcock for your briefing and for the continued efforts of your teams. Thank you, Rhonda, as well, for your comments.

The United States is troubled that implementation of the Riyadh Agreement has been slow. We call on the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council to implement the agreement promptly, and welcome continuing Saudi facilitation of this process. We are dismayed by the ongoing escalation between the Houthis and the Saudi-led Coalition, and the potential loss of progress toward a political solution it portends. We urge the parties to exercise restraint and abandon this path of escalation, as it looked like they might just a few weeks ago. The United States is also concerned by the Houthis’ purported ban on the new Yemeni riyal notes in Houthi-controlled areas, which will have a devastating impact on the exchange rate and the overall Yemeni economy. This measure is only harming ordinary Yemenis, and the Houthis should reverse it.

Turning to sanctions, the report released last week by the Yemen Panel of Experts contains a number of findings with serious regional implications. The Panel concluded that the Houthis did not carry out the September 14 attacks against Saudi oil facilities. Furthermore, the Secretary-General has noted in his report on the implementation of resolution 2231 that the unmanned aerial vehicles used in the attack contained components consistent with known Iranian UAVs. There is only one reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from these findings: Iran launched the attacks on Aramco facilities from Iranian territory. Iran also continues to undermine prospects of a political solution in Yemen. Just last week, the U.S. Navy interdicted 358 Iranian-made missiles and other weapons on their way to the Houthis. We have made this evidence available to the UN and other international partners.

While all of us around this table call for a return to talks, Iran shows its true colors by continuing to send advanced weapons to the Houthis in violation of this Council’s arms embargo.

The United States is also extremely concerned by mounting Houthi interference with the work of aid partners in northern Yemen, which limits the ability of the UN and other humanitarian organizations to deliver assistance to the most vulnerable Yemenis. Houthi actions – including imposition of a 2-3 percent per project levy – amount to a flagrant rejection of a principled humanitarian response. For any who would point to reports that the Houthis have agreed to rescind the project levy, please know the Houthis have made clear to those on the ground that they expect funding in some manner from the NGOs. The United States applauds the efforts of the UN and other humanitarian organizations to keep vulnerable Yemenis alive in this restrictive environment. However, we understand that Houthi interference now prevents the guarantee of assistance delivery in the areas they control.

In light of these entirely avoidable circumstances, donors are faced with the difficult dilemma of how to continue delivering aid while remaining responsive to taxpayers. We may be forced to consider suspending or reducing our assistance in northern Yemen as early as March unless undue Houthi interference ceases immediately and access to vulnerable populations improves. We continue to ask the Houthis to take steps toward minimum conditions for principled humanitarian operations. These include lifting access restrictions, eliminating illegitimate levies on aid projects, allowing unimpeded assessments and oversight of projects, approving backlogged agreements with NGOs, and implementing biometric registration.

The United States stands by UN and other aid agencies’ efforts to provide humanitarian assistance based on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. To the Houthis, we repeat our appeal from last month: all Yemenis in need deserve life-saving assistance. Do not make it impossible for us to continue providing aid in the areas you control. The conditions for doing so are clear. Additionally, we reiterate our call for the Houthis to allow the UN to board, inspect, and maintain the Safer oil tanker, which experts assess poses a serious threat of creating a major spill. In their quest to extract benefit from the situation, the Houthis are blocking UN efforts to assess and remedy the danger, risking an environmental disaster that would quickly become an economic and humanitarian catastrophe. If this occurs, the Houthis alone will be to blame.

On a positive note, the United States is appreciative that the UN has been able to conduct two medical air bridge flights, transporting 31 critically ill Yemenis to Jordan. We thank Jordan for their role in helping these vulnerable people receive care. Such life-saving measures are essential and should continue with the helpful support of Jordan and other regional partners. We also welcome the February 16 announcement that the parties have agreed on a plan to complete the first official large-scale exchange of prisoners since the beginning of the conflict, and we encourage them to expeditiously complete the remaining steps that will lead to the exchange. We hope that these developments will bring the parties one step closer to resolving the conflict. In closing, today we renew our call for leaders in Yemen to de-escalate hostilities. This is the only way to end the suffering and destruction that have plagued Yemen for far too long.

Thank you.