By Matthew Russell Lee, for InnerCityPro.com
UNITED NATIONS, May 20, updated with UNSC Elements to the Press — The UN’s bungling of Yemen mediation has become ever more clear, according to multiple sources and documents exclusively seen by Inner City Press. On May 6, Inner City Press reported how UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accepted US Secretary of State John Kerry’s injunction not to hold Yemen talks in Geneva on May 11.
Now two weeks later, Ban announces Geneva talks on May 28 — after the Houthi-less talks in Riyadh which featured Ban’s new, Saudi selected mediator Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed. So who will be in Geneva May 28?
In front of the UN Security Council on May 20, Yemen’s ambassador Khaled Alyemany said this to the press, some Inner City Press video here
“So, up to now there is no signal from the Houthis that they respect any intention to dialogue, to come to consensus, into talks. Because they still attack Aden… they still kill people, here and there, especially in the South. So up until now there is nothing to show that they have special interest in coming to the table of negotiations. We ask the Secretary General to pressure them, so that they can sort of react positively to the, to attend the conference in Geneva. So we still wait for some pressures to be applied on the Houthis so that they can be part of the solution. Until now, they are part of the destruction…
Q: What’s the goal in Geneva?
A: It’s very simple. The Secretary General was working hard so that humanitarian pause can be extended for another five days. Then, his Sepecil Envoy was mentioning that, ‘I was trying to get that, but I realized that all of these acts in the ground were not giving me any chance to show that objective.’
We think that we need to put more pressure on the Houthis so that they respect. It seems that they are already reaching this moment of wanting to talk. But they don’t want to give up what they consider their expansion on the ground. We need more force and let them understand that if they want to be part of the solution, there is – we have the outcome of Riyadh conference which lay the ground for the future of Yemen, it’s more or less the result of all the negotiations and talks among Yemenis from 2011 up til now, the outcome of their national dialogue, we need them to know that they are part of that process if they want to be. But if they still want to be kidnapping the state and taking that state by force, and wanting to negotiate, that would be impossible.”
We’ll have more on this. InnerCityPro has the above audio file, and asked the UN’s spokesperson about the claims at the May 20 noon briefing.
After the May 20 meeting, the following “Elements to the Press” statement – the weakest but faster form of Security Council action — was read out by the Council’s President for May, Lithuania’s Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite:
The members of the Security Council welcomed the Secretary General’s announcement to convene a conference of all Yemeni stakeholders in Geneva on 28 May with the intention of brokering a consensus-based political solution to Yemen’s crisis, in accordance with the GCC initiative, the outcomes of the comprehensive National Dialogue Conference and relevant UN Security Council resolutions. The members of the Security Council emphasized that the UN-brokered inclusive political dialogue must be a Yemeni-led process.
The members of the Security Council reaffirmed their call on all Yemeni parties to attend these talks and engage without preconditions and in good faith, including by resolving their differences through dialogue and consultations, rejecting acts of violence to achieve political goals, and refraining from provocation and all unilateral actions to undermine the political transition.
The members of the Security Council welcomed that international humanitarian actors were able to deliver essential relief items to the civilian population during the recent humanitarian pause.
The members of the Security Council supported the Secretary General’s call for the resumption of the humanitarian pauses.
Here’s Ban’s announcement, from South Korea where he is embroiled in a scandal which he’s urged the press to “refrain” from reporting on (but see here) –
“The Secretary-General is pleased to announce the launch of inclusive consultations starting on 28 May in Geneva to restore momentum towards a Yemeni-led political transition process.
This initiative, bringing together a broad range of Yemeni governmental and other actors, follows extensive consultations by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, as well as strong expressions of support by the United Nations Security Council in resolutions 2014 (2011), 2051 (2012), 2140 (2014), 2201 (2015) and 2216 (2015) for a peaceful and Yemeni-led political transition process. In particular, in resolution 2216 (2015), the Security Council emphasized the need for the return to the implementation of the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and its Implementation Mechanism and the outcomes of the comprehensive National Dialogue Conference, and reaffirmed its full support for, and commitment to, the efforts of the United Nations to relaunch the political dialogue.
The Secretary-General urges all the participants to engage in these United Nations consultations in good faith and without pre-conditions. The only durable resolution to the crisis in Yemen is an inclusive, negotiated political settlement. During the Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference the different political and social constituencies of Yemen came together to chart a course for democratic change and a new vision for the country. Tragically, Yemen has now slid into a conflict that risks spilling across its borders and that is having a dramatic impact on civilians, who are paying the highest price.
The United Nations has worked closely with Yemenis since 2011 to support national aspirations for change. With this experience and coupled with Yemen’s tradition of dialogue, the Secretary-General hopes these consultations will help Yemen re-launch the political process, reduce the levels of violence and alleviate the intolerable humanitarian situation.”
Back on April 29, Inner City Press asked the UN’s deputy spokesperson to confirm that the UN was considering Geneva as a venue to continue Yemen talks, after its previous envoy Jamal Benomar resigned in protest of Saudi airstrikes and was replaced by a more amenable envoy, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq replied that “we do not officially have a venue yet. Geneva is certainly one of the venues that is being considered, and that may very well be where it’s taking place.”
After that, Inner City Press has learned, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who discourage — rejected, in essence — the date of May 11 in Geneva which the UN had put in writing, in multiple documents since seen by Inner City Press.
The UN’s argument, tellingly, was the May 11 would work well for Ban Ki-moon’s schedule (he would be returning from his May 9 attendance of Victory Day in Moscow) and that the Houthis were more likely, but not certain, to attend in Geneva rather a Saudi selected venue.
In an echo of the UN’s failing mediation on Syria, the UN acknowledged that while Iran should attend in Geneva, Saudi Arabia might refuse to attend in Iran did.
And so the UN’s idea was a Yemeni-only event in Geneva, with Ban Ki-moon to speak and then leave. New enovy Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed would then conduct consultations — like Staffan de Mistura is doing on Syria, the UN analogized without apparent irony — and perhaps move the ongoing talks to Muscat, Oman.
(Involved in all this planning, not surprisingly, has been American Jeffrey Feltman, previously of the US State Department. While a nice enough guy, this combined with France’s even more open domination of UN Peacekeeping through USG Herve Ladsous, has also caused the UN to increasingly be viewed as partial. The UK controls Humanitarian Affairs through incoming Stephen O’Brien as exclusively reported by Inner City Press, credited by UK Channel 4 and the Telegraph.)
As to the UN’s idea of May 11 talks in Geneva, Kerry said no, that the UN should wait until after the Saudi convened event, now set for May 17 in Riyadh. The Houthis, of course, will not attend that. Ban Ki-moon is invited, but might see it smells of failure or partiality.
In any event, while the UN has not announced it South Korean sources say Ban will be in South Korea for four whole days around May 20. (Some say he has an interest in running for office there.)
But if Ismael Ould Cheikh Amhed attends the Riyadh meeting and is put on display on the podium, what possible credibility with or access to the Houthis could he have?
Tellingly, while others have reported the Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed is going to Paris before visting Riyadh, they have not said why. Inner City Press is informed the Paris stop over is at the request or demand of the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council, who is on vacation in Paris. This is today’s UN.
(SPA subsequently reported or bragged that Ismael “Wild” Cheikh Ahmed met in Paris with GCC Secretary General Abdullatif bin Rashed Al-Zayani.)
Tellingly, while Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed rushed to Washington DC to meet at the US State Department on May 1, as of the late afternoon of May 5 the president of the UN Security Council had yet to meet Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
On April 25, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on April 25 named Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed to replace Jamal Benomar as envoy on Yemen.
Three times Inner City Press had asked the Office of the UN Spokesperson why Ould Cheikh Ahmed is not listed on Ban’s webpage of public financial discloure and to say, yes or no, if he has an interest in a business which received funding from the Gulf. Three times the Office of Spokesperson promised to look into and give an answer, but never did. This is Ban’s UN.
On April 28, Inner City Press asked again:
Inner City Press: I wanted to ask on the new Yemen Special Adviser, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, there was this understanding of why on the page of the Secretary-General there’s no public financial disclosure.
Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq: Regarding that, we did check with the ethics office, and he has made available his disclosure in line with the existing rules and procedures, and so he is up to date on those. There are times when for… for a variety of different reasons people’s disclosures may not be on the website.
Inner City Press: But is he one of the officials that’s decided to not make even the summary public? I want… because when the name is listed, there’s a checkbox…
Deputy Spokesman Haq: I’ve said what I have to say on that, but he has made his disclosures in line with the appropriate rules and regulations.
Inner City Press: And also Stéphane had said that he would check whether a letter was received by the Office of the Secretary-General from a number of parties in Yemen concerning the appointment of this new envoy. Did he do that? Have you received that letter?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t know. This was when?
Inner City Press: It was on Friday, I believe, that I asked him and he said he would check. The reports are that the… a variety of the parties in Yemen wrote a letter about the process of replacing Mr. Benomar. And I wanted to obviously just to know if you got it…
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly… In the day after you asked, we announced the appointment, so that is part of our answer. And with that, let me bring our guest.
So, none of the public financial disclosure which Ban talked so much about. Why not?
On April 24, Inner City Press had asked Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric:
Question: Okay. I’m also informed of a letter from political parties in Yemen, including those representing Houthis and others, directed at the Secretary-General making two requests. One, that Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed not be named as a replacement to Mr. [Jamal] Benomar and that someone be appointed or retained who actually they will speak with. And I wanted to know… you may not know of this letter yet, but I’m reliably informed it is either there or on its way…
Spokesman: All right. I will look for the letter.
Question: And I guess my question would be, do you… has the Secretary-General… since we’ve already… we’ve heard from some of the ambassadors from the Security Council that he’s put forward a name. Did he put any effort to speak to the parties on the ground in Yemen, the actual Yemenis?
Spokesman: I think the… when we’re ready to announce the person, we will. Obviously, for a… an appointment as delicate as this… as this ongoing… to represent the Secretary-General in this ongoing crisis, it is normal to have as broad of a consultation as possible, and what is obviously extremely important is that once that envoy is named, that adviser is named, that all the parties give him access and engage with him.
Question: If you get the letter, will you squawk it? Does it mean that these parties that wrote…
Spokesman: I think…
Question: …once consulted…
Spokesman: It’s an ongoing humanitarian crisis. It’s an ongoing conflict. And we are trying to get the political process back on track. So we’d like to have a special envoy as soon as… a Special Adviser as soon as possible, and again hope that all the parties engage with him.
Question: Didn’t you have one? That’s my question. Didn’t you actually have a Special Adviser?
Spokesman: Yes, we have Mr. Benomar…
Question: Is it your understanding that he’s entirely unwilling to continue in the post?
Spokesman: Well, I think he’s… he’s… he’s expressed his desire to move on and, as we said, we are… we’re in the process of naming somebody shortly.
No response about the letter, either. This does not bode well.
After Saudi Arabia was allowed to oust UN mediator Jamal Benomar for being insufficiently supportive of its airstrikes, the UN is being promoted, again, as an honest broker. How so, when the UN has UNtransparently named as a replacement mediator an individual who previously failed in Yemen, refusing to make public financial disclosure? How weak and untransparent is today’s UN?