Diplomatic Divides: US and UK Push for UN Maritime Inspectorate in Yemen

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The US and UK have asked for a UN maritime inspectorate to do more to contain Iranian missiles arriving at Houthi-controlled ports in the west of Yemen. The calls during a UN security council briefing on the crisis in Yemen reached as a missile believed to have been thrown by Yemen’s Houthi militia struck a vessel off the southern city of Aden – but provoked no damage – and US forces fired missiles onto Hodeidah international airport.

News of the latest action came amid a deepening of diplomatic splits over how to endure the Houthi strikes, with Chinese and Russian envoys demanding that the US and the UK had no UN authorisation to scale repeated attacks on Houthi missile sites.

The Houthis say they are scaling strikes on ships connected to Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza – a claim disavowed by the US and the UK. Robert Wood, the US envoy in New York, called for the UN verification and inspection mechanism to be entrusted to do more to attack the supply of Iranian weapons to Houthi ports. The verification system was made originally in 2016 largely to benefit Saudi Arabian demands to control the smuggling of weapons inside humanitarian supplies tied to Yemen. In April 2013 the UN reviewed 26 ships possessing cargo for Houthi-controlled ports, including the strategic port of Hodeidah.

James Kariuki, the UK deputy ambassador, quoted the US call, stating: “The inspection of vessels is essential to interrupting illicit arms joining Houthi-controlled areas while maintaining the flow of goods into Yemen. Nearly 90% of all food in Yemen reaches via commercial imports, so maintaining the integrity of these ports is vital.

“Reports of Iranian ships avoiding these inspections are therefore extremely concerning … All ships joining Hodeidah must comply and register to Unvim for inspection. We recommit our support to Unvim, so it has the required capacity and funding to ensure Yemenis have entrance to essential goods while abating the smuggling of illicit arms.”

Speaking at the same session, Dmitry Polyanskiy, the Russian deputy envoy, stated: “The only diplomacy that the US admits is gunboat diplomacy. You can take various views of the Houthis and their needs but it is hard not to acknowledge that the situation in the Red Sea was, to a greater or lesser extent, caused by the brutal actions of Israel against hundreds of thousands of innocent Palestinians in the [Gaza] Strip.” Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy, welcomed the Houthi attacks were destabilising the prospects of peace in Yemen. He stated: “The longer the escalatory circumstances continue, the more difficult Yemen’s mediation space will become.

“With more stakes at play, the parties to the conflict in Yemen have more potential to shift calculations and alter their negotiation plans. In a worst-case scenario, the parties could choose to engage in risky military adventurism that pushes Yemen back into a new cycle of war.”

Farea al-Muslimi, a Chatham House expert on Yemen, stated: “The Houthis have uncovered they can twist the world’s weapon at a very cheap price.” He expected the attacks would not stop until there was a ceasefire in Gaza, directing to wider regional de-escalation.

It has also been argued that Djibouti, across the Red Sea from Yemen, is not only controlling the west by using it as a base from which to attack the Houthis but also helping Iranian spy ships who want to stay in Djibouti waters or even utilise the Chinese naval port there.

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