US, Rus­sia trade barbs over Iran

Tehran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile am­bi­tions very wor­ry­ing: French for­eign min­is­ter


WASH­ING­TON: Nikki Ha­ley, the US en­voy to the UN, has threat­ened “to take ac­tions” against Iran af­ter Rus­sia ve­toed a UN Se­cu­rity

Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion that con­demned Tehran for sup­port­ing Houthi rebels in Ye­men.

She blasted Rus­sia for block­ing cen­sure of Iran, say­ing it flew in the face of a re­port by a panel of UN ex­perts that found Tehran had failed to stop the trans­fer of drone and bal­lis­tic mis­sile tech­nol­ogy to the Houthis.

“If Rus­sia is go­ing to use its veto to block ac­tion against Iran’s dan­ger­ous and desta­bi­liz­ing con­duct, then the United States and our part­ners will need to take ac­tions against Iran that the Rus­sians can­not block,” Ha­ley warned af­ter the vote.

While the Bri­tish-drafted doc­u­ment was blocked on Mon­day, the 15-mem­ber coun­cil unan­i­mously adopted a ri­val, Rus­sian­pro­posed text that did not name Iran and ex­tended a tar­geted sanc­tions regime over Ye­men’s civil war un­til 2019.

The Bri­tish-drafted doc­u­ment won 11 fa­vor­able votes but was blocked by Rus­sia’s veto. China and Kaza­khstan ab­stained, while Bo­livia joined Moscow in vot­ing against the doc­u­ment.

The 329-page re­port by a UN panel of ex­perts was for­mally re­leased this month, and con­cluded that Tehran had vi­o­lated a 2015 arms em­bargo af­ter de­ter­min­ing that mis­siles fired by the Houthis at Saudi Ara­bia last year were made in Iran.

Rus­sia says the re­port’s find­ings are not con­clu­sive enough to jus­tify cen­sure of Tehran. While the re­port found that Iran had bro­ken the em­bargo by not block­ing ship­ments, the ex­perts said they could not iden­tify the sup­plier.

“We can­not con­cur with un­cor­rob­o­rated con­clu­sions and ev­i­dence which re­quires ver­i­fi­ca­tion and dis­cus­sions within the sanc­tions com­mit­tee,” Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Vass­ily Neben­zia told coun­cil mem­bers af­ter de­ploy­ing the veto.

“There’s a grave dan­ger of toy­ing with geopo­lit­i­cal maps, in­clud­ing with the use of the most volatile ma­te­rial, namely re­la­tions in the Is­lamic world, and re­la­tions be­tween the Sun­nis and Shi­ites,” he added, ref­er­enc­ing two branches of Is­lam.

A proxy war is play­ing out in Ye­men be­tween Iran and US ally Saudi Ara­bia, which leads a coali­tion that in­ter­vened in Ye­men in 2015, back­ing Pres­i­dent Abed Rabbo Man­sour Hadi’s gov­ern­ment against the Tehran-al­lied Houthis. Iran de­nies sup­ply­ing the Houthis weapons.

Sig­urd Neubauer, a Wash­ing­ton-based Gulf ex­pert, told Arab News that the spat be­tween Rus­sia and the Western coun­cil mem­bers was a “game-changer” for the UN body, as it marked the first ma­jor divi­sion on Ye­men.

“Un­til re­cently, the coun­cil wasn’t di­vided on Ye­men. Now that US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is push­ing Iran and not ac­com­mo­dat­ing Rus­sia, the Ye­men is­sue is be­com­ing part of the wider US-Rus­sia strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion,” Neubauer said.

“This new dy­namic be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow will com­pli­cate the al­ready dif­fi­cult UN peace process for Ye­men. It marks a strate­gic fail­ure on the part of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

James Far­well, a for­mer Pen­tagon ad­viser, said Bri­tain, the US and other Western pow­ers are get­ting be­hind Riyadh with a view to con­strain­ing Iran’s grow­ing re­gional in­flu­ence.

“Western part­ners are fall­ing in be­hind Saudi Ara­bia out of con­cern that the Houthis do have a closer re­la­tion­ship with Iran,” he told Arab News. “It’s about what can be done to check­mate Ira­nian ex­pan­sion.”

But Far­well, an ex­pert con­nected with the Mid­dle East In­sti­tute think tank, said Riyadh’s fears of ties be­tween Tehran and the Houthis are overblown, and the rebels likely only have a trans­ac­tional re­la­tion­ship with Iran.

Rus­sia, which is aligned with Iran in sup­port­ing Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, shows no signs of get­ting se­ri­ously in­volved in Ye­men, but is seiz­ing an op­por­tu­nity to thwart its Western ri­vals with­out in­vest­ing any re­sources, Far­well added.

“Moscow is happy to sow chaos and dis­rupt what the US and its al­lies are do­ing,” he said. “But Rus­sia is also tread­ing care­fully be­cause it’s woo­ing Saudi Ara­bia, which is a po­ten­tial mar­ket for its arms sales, and a coun­try it could forge a stronger re­la­tion­ship with by rais­ing sus­pi­cion that the US isn’t a re­li­able ally.”

Mean­while, French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tues­day said Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile am­bi­tions are very wor­ry­ing and run counter to a UN res­o­lu­tion.

Le Drian, speak­ing at a news con­fer­ence af­ter talks with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part Sergei Lavrov, said it is nec­es­sary to avoid Tehran’s bal­lis­tic pro­gram be­com­ing a fac­tor that threat­ens its neigh­bors. Lavrov said Rus­sia will strive to main­tain a “hu­man­i­tar­ian cor­ri­dor” to let aid in and civil­ians out of Syria’s be­sieged Eastern Ghouta re­gion, although the first five­hour truce uni­lat­er­ally de­clared by Moscow quickly col­lapsed.

“The Rus­sian side un­der­stands the com­plex hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion in Eastern Ghouta,” he added.

“A con­crete hu­man­i­tar­ian cor­ri­dor has been set up that will be used to de­liver hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, and in the other di­rec­tion, a med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion can take place and all civil­ians who want to leave can.”

A French diplo­matic source, quoted by Reuters, said the short-term cease-fire an­nounced by Rus­sia is not en­cour­ag­ing.

“It is not good,” the source said. “We aren’t go­ing to do half a cease-fire. It’s the full UN res­o­lu­tion that needs to be im­ple­mented.”

Houthi bal­lis­tic mis­siles aimed at Saudi tar­gets have been a cause of con­cern. (Reuters)

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