Saudi Arabian and US resistance has forced the UK to delay plans to table a UN security council resolution on Yemen, raising the prospect a UN-appointed general will fly to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah without a mandate to enforce a fragile ceasefire.
The US is demanding that the draft resolution contains reference to Iran’s role in arming the rebel Houthis, a proposal that has led to Russian threats to veto it.
Saudi Arabia is meanwhile insisting the draft contains no reference to an independent investigation into breaches of international humanitarian law during the three-year civil war, so protecting its pilots from UN investigations into the deliberate targeting of civilians.
Negotiations over the resolution reached an impasse on Wednesday, but the UK is pressing all sides to compromise by focusing the resolution on an endorsement of the ceasefire deal struck by the Iranian-backed Houthis and the Saudi-backed, UN-recognised government in talks last week in Stockholm.
A retired Dutch general, Patrick Cammaert, is on his way to Hodeidah to oversee a two-stage withdrawal of all troops from Hodeidah, but without the legal mandate of a UN resolution, is largely powerless.
The Yemeni government has warned that if a UN mandate is not agreed immediately the ceasefire is in danger of collapse and it will resume its assault. Both Houthis and the Yemen government have each agreed three nominees to sit on a joint monitoring committee that is due to meet under Gen Cammaert for the first time on Saturday.
Aid agencies at the UN are “extremely worried that without a resolution to lock in Stockholm agreements and call for further action to address the humanitarian situation, the fragile progress is at risk”.
Edwin Samuel, the UK government spokesman for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “We expect our allies and our partners in the security council to exercise restraint when using the right of veto. There is certainly intensive consultation between us and all members, especially the permanent members.”
At US insistence the draft resolution “condemns ballistic missile and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks by the Houthis against neighbouring countries” stressing that “such attacks constitute a threat to regional security”. It further condemns “the supply from Iran and other actors of weapons and associated material on contravention of the arms embargo.”
Russia feels the passage is imbalanced in singling out Iran since it makes no mention of the western supply of arms to Saudi Arabia. The resolution also calls for a “transparent credible and timely investigation into alleged violations of international criminal law and those found responsible to be held accountable”.
Saudi Arabia is insisting that no details are specified about the nature of this inquiry since it fears a UN-led inquiry will lead to Saudi military facing charges of war crimes.
Kuwait was on Thursday pressing for the resolution to be downgraded to a presidential statement and confined to a very tight endorsement of the outcome of the Stockholm talks.
A previous British attempt to pass a UN resolution on Yemen in November had to be shelved following US and Saudi objections over the wording.
The UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, speaking to MPs on Wednesday, was pressed by his Labour shadow, Emily Thornberry, to set out whether the resolution set out penalties for ceasefire breaches, but he said if either side broke the ceasefire they would face “the full wrath of the UN”.
Cammaert is due to provide weekly reports to the UN on the ceasefire’s status, and any breaches.
Hunt admitted that the ceasefire introduced on Tuesday around the port city of Hodeidah was very fragile and and even though “there was light at the end of the tunnel, Yemen was still very much in the tunnel”.
He said he believed that a further round of peace talks would recommence in January, at which the Houthi-backed forces would show they were prepared to be minority members in a government of national unity.