Defying U.S., Russia Says No Case for UN Action Against Iran

Russia does not believe there is a case for United Nations action against Iran, Russia’s UN ambassador said on Wednesday after traveling to Washington to view pieces of weapons that Washington says Tehran gave Yemen’s Houthi group, Reuters reports.

The Trump administration has for months been lobbying for Iran to be held accountable at the United Nations, while at the same time threatening to quit a 2015 deal among world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program if “disastrous flaws” are not fixed.

“We only heard some vague talk about some action. If there is something (proposed) we will see. How can we pass judgment prematurely before we know what it is about,” Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Wednesday.

Asked if there was a case against Iran at the United Nations, Nebenzia answered: “No.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley took her 14 Security Council colleagues to a military hangar near Washington on Monday to see remnants of what the Pentagon said was an Iranian-made ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Nov. 4 at Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, as well as other weapons.

A proxy war is playing out in Yemen between Iran and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. Iran has denied supplying the Iran-allied Houthis with such weaponry and described the arms displayed in Washington as “fabricated.”

“Yemen hosts a pile of weapons from the old days, many countries competing to supply weapons to Yemen during the time of (former) President (Ali Abdullah) Saleh, so I cannot give you anything conclusive. I am not an expert to judge,” Nebenzia said.

Independent UN experts reported to the Security Council in January that Iran had violated UN sanctions on Yemen because “it failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of ballistic missiles and other equipment to the Houthi group.  Nebenzia questioned whether there was conclusive evidence. He said it was up to the Security Council’s Yemen sanctions committee – made up of diplomats from the council’s 15 members – to address the report by the UN experts.

Kazakhstan UN Ambassador Kairat Umarov, Security Council president for January, also suggested the evidence shown to council envoys in Washington may not be enough for UN action.

“Unfortunately we don’t know how this weaponry was delivered to Yemen,” he told reporters on Wednesday, adding that for some time there have been different governments as well as “commercial people who like to send weaponry.”

Haley has said the United States was considering several possible UN options for action against Iran, including tightening ballistic missile restrictions on Tehran or imposing targeting sanctions on Iranian individuals or entities. Diplomats have said Haley has not signaled which accountability option she might pursue or when.

The Trump administration has said it will seek action at the Security Council against Iran, although it has yet to specify what those measures may be. Russia has the power to block sanctions by resorting to its veto power as one of the five permanent Security Council members along with Britain, China, France and the United States.

It has long been believed that Iran is planning to use the Houthis to take over Yemen and seize the key strategic port of Aden, which controls the entrance to the Red Sea and ultimately to the Israeli resort city of Eilat. Earlier this month, the Houthi rebels threatened to prevent international boats from passing through the Red Sea if the Saudi-led Arab coalition continues its attacks on the rebels.

The Arab world’s poorest country, Yemen is engulfed in a conflict that many see as a proxy war between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia that has killed more than 10,000 civilians, displaced 2 million people, and left 7 million on the brink of famine.

Iranian-backed Houthi Shiite rebels and forces allied to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh swept into the capital, Sanaa, in 2014 and control much of northern Yemen.

They have been locked in a bloody stalemate for most of the last three years with a Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, which supports Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. It launched an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015.

Saleh, who was president in 1990-2012, was killed by the Houthis in December when he was about to switch support to the coalition. UN experts monitoring sanctions against Yemen said in a recent report that Iran violated a UN arms embargo by directly or indirectly providing missiles and drones to the Houthis.