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)