Overcome destructive rivalries with confidence-building measures essential to reduce instability in Persian Gulf, Says Secretary-General to Security Council – Yemen

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Here are the remarks of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, as delivered, at the Security Council meeting on “Maintaining International Peace and Security: Comprehensive Review of the Situation in the Region of the Persian Gulf ”, today:

Let me first of all thank Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian Federation for this initiative.

Given the complex and multifaceted challenges in the Persian Gulf region, it is important to think more deeply about how the international community, especially the Security Council, can work together to promote peace and security in this vital part of the world.

I remain extremely concerned about the situation in Yemen, a local conflict that has regionalized over time. Almost six years of war have devastated the lives of millions of Yemenis and undermined confidence-building efforts in the region. I called for an immediate global ceasefire to focus on the one real fight: the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Security Council has joined in that call.

But as I said in my address to the General Assembly, we must redouble our efforts. Time is running out and people are dying. Yemen is Exhibit A for the need to achieve a ceasefire now. The past week has brought a ray of hope. The parties have taken promising steps by releasing more than 1,000 prisoners – the largest exchange of prisoners since the start of the conflict. This action not only reunited many Yemeni families with their loved ones, but also demonstrated that the parties are capable of reaching an agreement and keeping their commitments.

The United Nations continues to facilitate negotiations between the Yemeni parties on the Joint Declaration, including a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian confidence-building measures and the resumption of the political process.

Meanwhile, the security situation remains fragile. In recent weeks, we have witnessed a further escalation of the conflict, concentrated mainly in the governorates of Al Jawf, Ma’rib and Hudaydah, the latter of which is of great concern as it risks undermining the 2018 Stockholm Agreement. Fortunately, for now, hostilities have abated, but that is not enough. We need an immediate ceasefire and return to the negotiating table to find a political settlement to end the war. Anything less will be enough. Our collective ambition is high, but it must necessarily be so after many years of conflict.

I recognize the meticulous compromise requested from the parties to finalize this set of agreements. I reiterate my call to them to continue their engagement with my Envoy – without preconditions – to finalize the Joint Declaration. Yemeni women and youth must also be part of the process to ensure an inclusive and lasting solution.

There is no doubt that the tensions in the region have complicated our efforts to find a peaceful settlement in Yemen. Yet we know that a speedy resolution of the conflict in Yemen can help build confidence throughout the region. This conflict reminds us that if we do not address the urgent and immediate regional challenges, the instability could spread and spread further.

At the same time, Yemen remains the biggest humanitarian emergency. Famine is looming – and all of this is made even worse by the continued spread of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic respects no borders. I was encouraged when several Gulf countries expressed support for my global ceasefire call and sent humanitarian aid to affected countries around the world. I applaud these efforts and urge countries to desist from any sanctions that could hamper access to life-saving humanitarian and medical assistance amid this pandemic. Whatever our differences, our common humanity must push us to take up the challenge in a spirit of solidarity.

Looking at the wider Persian Gulf region, it is clear that tensions are running high. Confidence is low. Some countries may feel that others are interfering in their own affairs or those of their neighbors. Some may believe that their regional role is not recognized. Since May 2019, a number of security incidents have raised tensions to new levels, heightening fears of a larger conflict. This is a stark reminder that any miscalculation could quickly escalate. I reiterate my appeal to all parties concerned to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from actions that could have destabilizing effects.

The regional situation underlines the urgent need to work collectively to reduce tensions and prevent conflicts. The first step towards de-escalation is to identify viable confidence-building measures that could address issues of common interest.

The experience of the Cold War shows that regardless of the confrontations and the deep divisions of the time, it was possible to launch the Helsinki process. Several countries have made suggestions – like me – in this regard regarding the situation in the Persian Gulf region. It has not yet been possible to reach a consensus of all the key players who need to be involved.

But, remembering Helsinki, I hope it will be possible to establish a similar platform, starting with a number of confidence-building measures. These may include, for example, ways to combat COVID-19, promote economic recovery, ensure unhindered maritime navigation and facilitate religious pilgrimages. In the longer term, I see the benefit of establishing a new regional security architecture to address the legitimate security concerns of all stakeholders.

As we mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of our Organization, the United Nations will continue its work to help reduce tensions in the Persian Gulf region. In accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and my own role of good offices, I am ready to convene any form of regional dialogue that can achieve the necessary consensus of all parties concerned.

We also fully support efforts such as those launched by Kuwait to promote dialogue and resolve tensions among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. I hope this dispute can be resolved quickly, at a time when unity is needed to address the many challenges facing the region. I would like once again to recognize and commend the mediation work of His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al Sabah, who tragically passed away earlier this month.

With regard to regional stability, the issue of nuclear non-proliferation is crucial. From the start, I have always viewed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – or JCPOA – as an important instrument against nuclear proliferation and for regional security. The enormity of the challenges ahead should not discourage us.

Let us work to create a climate of trust and improve the prospects for regional dialogue. Let’s move beyond destructive rivalries and recognize what unites us. Let us keep the interests of the peoples of the region first and foremost – their aspirations for freedoms, opportunities, better living conditions and peace. Above all, this should oblige us to intensify our collective efforts.

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