Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 12, 2024
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you Assistant Secretary-General Khiari for your briefing.
Colleagues, as you heard, last night, in response to ongoing and escalating Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, the United States and United Kingdom – with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands – conducted a number of joint strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen. The aim of these strikes was to disrupt and degrade the Houthis’ ability to continue their reckless attacks against vessels and commercial shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
These strikes were necessary, and they were proportionate, as you just heard from my UK colleague. They were consistent with international law, and in exercise of the United States’ inherent right to self-defense, as reflected by Article 51 of the UN Charter. And they were taken only after non-military options proved inadequate to address the threat.
Still, any strike of this nature is a decision the United States does not take lightly. And so, I’d like to walk us through how we reached this moment and discuss the steps that we all must take going forward to deescalate this situation, while upholding navigational rights and freedoms. Because while this coordinated response follows the Houthis’ largest, most complex, and most recent attacks earlier this week, the fact is that the Houthis’ opportunistic attacks on vessels have been escalating since November.
And colleagues, no one – no one – in this room is immune from the effects of these attacks. Not even Russia. No one. Whether your ship flies an American flag or the flag of another nation, whether you voted for this week’s resolution or you abstained from it, so long as any one of our ships are vulnerable, all of our ships are vulnerable.
Since November, 2,000 – 2,000 – ships have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea. More than 50 nations have been affected in 27 Houthi attacks on international commercial shipping. And Houthi militants have threatened or taken hostage mariners from more than 20 countries.
That includes the crew of the Galaxy Leader, a Bahamas-flagged, Japanese-operated vessel. On November 19, Houthi forces hijacked the ship and kidnapped a multinational crew including Bulgarian, Mexican, Romanian, Ukrainian, and Filipino citizens. Despite Council calls for the release of the ship and its crew, the Houthis still hold them hostage to this day.
Not long after, following the Council’s condemnation of these attacks, a Norwegian-flagged vessel was struck by what appeared to be an anti-ship missile launched from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen.
Days later, Houthi forces attempted to board a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, while a pair of missiles were once again launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.
And so, on December 18, the United States established Operation Prosperity Guardian, a 22-country-strong defensive coalition to help defend against Houthi threats in the Red Sea.
On December 19, one month after the Houthis first took M/V Galaxy Leader and its crew hostage, 44 countries condemned Houthi interference with navigational rights and freedoms in the Red Sea. Unfortunately, the Houthis continued their attacks.
On December 26, United States forces intercepted 12 one-way attack drones, three anti-ship cruise missiles, and two land-attack cruise missiles in the southern Red Sea – all fired by the Houthis at multiple vessels crossing the waterway.
Aiming to deter further attacks and deescalate the situation, the United States put forward a Presidential Statement – one that received strong support, save, unfortunately, for one member of this Council.
As we deliberated further, on December 30 and 31, the attacks escalated, when Houthis targeted – and then attempted to commandeer – a Singapore-flagged and Denmark owned and operated ship.
When Houthi attackers ignored warnings and fired at our naval helicopters, the United States responded by striking and sinking three of their four boats.
And while, as the United States sought to defend commercial ships in the Red Sea, we also continued to pursue a diplomatic response. On January 3, the United States – along with 13 other countries representing some of the world’s largest shippers – warned that the Houthis’ attacks threaten innocent lives, the global economy, and the free flow of commerce; noting that the Houthis would bear the full consequences should they continue these attacks.
That same day, this Council convened an emergency meeting where there was a consensus for Council action. And so, in partnership with Japan, we penned a resolution that was adopted earlier this week, following extensive consultations. This resolution once again called for the Houthis to cease these attacks, and condemned those who provide the arms and assistance needed to carry them out. I’ll also note that this resolution referenced the inherent right of Member States, in accordance with international law, to defend their vessels from attacks. The inherent right.
So why take you through this timeline? Because doing so makes this much exceedingly clear: Yesterday’s strike was the latest in a series of actions in self-defense taken by the United States, alongside other countries and one that occurred against a broad diplomatic backdrop of global condemnation.
Colleagues, the United States does not desire more conflict in a region already plagued by so much of it. Our aim is simple: to deescalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, while upholding the fundamental principles of freedom of navigation. In order to do that, this Council must continue to do a few things: We must continue to make clear that despite bad faith claims to the contrary, most of the vessels the Houthis have attacked have nothing to do with Israel. And it goes without saying, attacks on any vessels in the Red Sea, regardless of origin or ownership, are entirely unacceptable. Arguing otherwise risks legitimizing clear violations of international law.
We need to also be clear about the role of Iran in these attacks. Without Iranian support – in violation of their obligations under Resolution 2216 – the Houthis would struggle to effectively track and strike commercial vessels navigating shipping lanes through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Every member of this Council – and especially those with direct channels to Iran – should press Iran’s leaders to rein in the Houthis and stop these attacks.
Finally, this Council itself must continue to demand that the Houthis cease their attacks and release the mariners and ship it continues to hold hostage. We must continue to uphold the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways, in accordance with international law. That was the charge before us when we first convened on this issue in December. And it was the charge before us when we convened earlier this week. And that is the urgent, urgent charge before us today.