Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Yemen

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 16, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President, and a special thanks to today’s briefers for your exceptionally sobering, compelling, and powerful presentations. As always, we are grateful for the hard work that you and your teams do on the ground every day in Yemen.

While these briefings add devastating clarity to our view of the crisis, they also reinforce the central lesson from over four years of conflict: the only enduring solution to this man-made – yes, man-made – crisis is a political settlement. This war must end soon, and it won’t end on the battlefield. As Secretary Pompeo has made clear, the United States seeks a cessation of hostilities in Yemen.

With that lesson in mind, Mr. President, the United States renews its call on parties to the conflict to engage with Special Envoy Griffiths as soon as possible and its call on all Member States to assist. We are fully supportive of the Special Envoy’s work to bring the parties to the table for consultations to discuss a framework for a political settlement to this war. The parties need to stop debating conditions for talks and instead sit down at the table and engage on the Special Envoy’s reasonable proposals. We further welcome the Special Envoy’s offer to share the framework with this Council when appropriate.

We also welcome reports of progress towards allowing select wounded Houthis to travel to Oman for medical care and expect that the Coalition and Oman will do everything they can to support this arrangement. Martin has worked for months to build a conducive environment for the consultations to begin. The Houthis must reciprocate immediately, without additional preconditions, and agree to participate in political consultations with the coalition in Sweden as soon as possible.

Mr. President, as political talks take place, the parties must ensure that the flow of assistance and commercial goods remain unimpeded. Fighting around Hudaydah has shown us the immense risk of escalation. It’s irresponsible for the Houthis to place their fighters on the rooftops of hospitals, warehouses, and other civilian infrastructure. Thousands of civilians are threatened by the fighting, and it’s getting harder and harder to move supplies from the port to the Yemenis who need it.

It is particularly important that the parties take no steps that could make this precarious situation worse. The Houthis need to lift the wide range of bureaucratic obstacles that make deliveries of assistance difficult and stop interfering with UN relief efforts. Both sides of the conflict must help facilitate the movement of aid workers and journalists. The mistreatment of Baha’i and adherents of other religions must stop.

We also call on the Yemeni government to work with its partners to stabilize the Yemeni rial and re-build the capacity of the Central Bank. It is critical that the government avoid taking any steps, even inadvertently, that could make it harder for importers to get food and fuel into the country.

Mr. President, there can be no more excuses for delaying work on a settlement. We know that for millions of Yemenis facing the risk of starvation and disease, there is no substitute for immediate humanitarian relief. We commend the tireless effort in dangerous circumstances by David Beasley, the World Food Program, and its implementing partners, and by Lise Grande and her team on the ground.

The United States will continue its leadership in supporting critical aid and efforts to address the economic crisis. We urge all Member States to join us in that work. It’s work that must happen regardless of the state of the conflict.

In the same vein, we remind all parties to the conflict of their obligations under the law of armed conflict, including the obligation to take all feasible precautions to minimize the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Mr. President, the Security Council remains deeply divided on many issues. But as we are hearing today, not so on Yemen. All of us around this table have emphasized a common theme – that the time for progress on the political track is now. That we stand behind Special Envoy Griffiths and his efforts. That we’re united in our demand for Mark Lowcock’s five asks, including for unfettered humanitarian access and for a cessation of hostilities. The United States and the members of this Council will be watching the situation closely in the weeks to come, particularly whether the parties cooperate with the Special Envoy’s work. We must all use our collective and individual influence to make sure that they do.

Thank you.