Russia-called UN urgent meeting on Yemen ends without action

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An emergency meeting on Yemen by the U.N. Security Council ended Friday with the 15 members unable to agree on an immediate statement on the growing crisis. The ambassador from Russia, which called the meeting, wondered why his colleagues talk about the need to help but can't take action.

Vitaly Churkin called the closed-door meeting a day after the U.N. chief warned that basic services in Yemen are "on the brink of collapse." Diplomats said Russia wanted to address the extraordinary humanitarian and security situation in the Arab world's poorest country as a Saudi-led Sunni coalition continues airstrikes against a Shiite rebel group that is supported by Iran.

But the recent strained relations between Russia and its colleagues appeared to be at play again. Churkin said other members of the 15-member council didn't back his proposed statement, which he read out to reporters afterward. It called for an immediate ceasefire, or at least humanitarian pauses.

The statement echoed a call a day earlier by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Churkin said he told council members he would be willing to drop the call for an immediate ceasefire. He said some council members insisted they had to consult with their capitals for further guidance.

Churkin's proposed statement also called for a quick return to U.N.-led peace talks on Yemen including all the parties involved and at a venue all can agree on. It also expressed support for the U.N.'s new special envoy for Yemen who would guide the talks.

"If you can't agree to a motherhood and apple pie statement, what can you agree on? I don't understand," Churkin said.

Other diplomats said there was strong agreement on Yemen's desperate humanitarian situation and the need for political talks, and that discussions on a council statement continue.

Churkin also said of the United States, "Clearly, they need to feel their responsibility since they are supporting the bombing of the coalition, the responsibility of the humanitarian consequences," he said.

U.S. officials said Friday that Secretary of State John Kerry might visit Saudi Arabia next week to explore new strategies to end the violence.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly, said the U.S. has encouraged the Saudi government "to institute a streamlined process" for the U.N. and aid groups to get clearance for humanitarian staff and supplies entering Yemen. "We are also encouraging the Saudi government to ensure safe conduct of humanitarian operations in the country," the official said in an email.

The official also blamed the Houthi rebels for ignoring the council's demand earlier this year to "immediately and unconditionally" end all violence and for causing suffering for Yemen's people.

Prospects for the U.N.-led talks are a concern. The Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, insists that talks be held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Churkin said the Houthi rebels wouldn't go there. He added that Russia sees no interest "on the part of those engaged in bombing" in engaging with the new U.N. envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

But Churkin said he was encouraged that U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman told the council that Ban wants to act quickly. Ahmed will not be starting from scratch, the Russian ambassador said.

Ban's office on Thursday said more than 1,200 people have been killed in the conflict, which has turned into a kind of proxy war between Yemen's powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia and Iran, a Russian ally. Many of those dead have been civilians.

Ban's statement also warned that already challenged humanitarian operations in Yemen will end within days unless fuel imports return, noting that the violence has "severely blocked" shipments of basic supplies such as food and medical items by air and sea.

The outgoing U.N. envoy, Jamal Benomar, warned the council this week that the arms embargo it imposed this year on leaders of the Houthis could "inadvertently restrict the flow of much-needed commercial goods and humanitarian assistance."

Churkin on Friday openly wondered why an arms embargo would affect the supply of fuel.

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