Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, as delivered, at the Security Council meeting on the “Maintenance of international peace and security: comprehensive review of the situation in the Persian Gulf region”, today:
Let me begin by thanking 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 reflect more deeply on how the international community — particularly the Security Council — can work in unison 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 become regionalized over time. Nearly six years of war have devastated the lives of millions of Yemenis and undermined confidence‑building efforts in the region. I have appealed for an immediate global ceasefire to focus on the one true fight: the battle against the COVID‑19 pandemic, and the Security Council has joined this call.
But as I said in my address to the General Assembly, we need to step up our efforts. The clock is ticking — and people are dying. Yemen is Exhibit A for the need to realize a ceasefire now. Last week brought a ray of hope. The parties took promising steps by releasing more than 1,000 prisoners – the largest prisoner exchange 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 able to reach agreement and follow through on their commitments.
The United Nations continues to facilitate negotiations between the Yemeni parties on the Joint Declaration, comprised of a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian confidence‑building measures and the resumption of the political process.
Meanwhile the security situation remains fragile. Over recent weeks, we have witnessed a further escalation of conflict, concentrated principally in Al Jawf, Ma’rib and Hudaydah Governorates, with the latter being of significant concern as it risks undermining the Stockholm Agreement of 2018. Fortunately, for now, hostilities have subsided, but this is not enough. We need an immediate ceasefire and return to the negotiating table to work out a political settlement to end the war. Nothing less will suffice. Our collective ambition is high, but necessarily it must be so after the many years of conflict.
I acknowledge the painstaking compromise being asked of the parties to finalize this set of agreements. I reiterate my call on 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 sustainable solution.
There is no doubt that tensions in the region have complicated our efforts to find a peaceful settlement in Yemen. Yet we know the swift resolution of the Yemen conflict can contribute to building trust and confidence throughout the region. This conflict is a reminder that unless we address the urgent and immediate regional challenges, instability could spread further and wider.
At the same time, Yemen remains the largest humanitarian emergency. Famine is looming — and it is all compounded further 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 dispatched humanitarian aid to affected countries around the world. I commend these efforts and urge countries to waive any sanctions that may adversely affect access to vital humanitarian and medical assistance amid this pandemic. Whatever our differences, our common humanity should compel us to rise to 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 neighbours. Some may hold the belief that their regional role is not recognized. Since May 2019, a number of security incidents have raised tensions to new levels, heightening concerns of a larger conflict. These are a stark reminder that any miscalculation could quickly escalate. I reiterate my call to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from actions that could have destabilizing effects.
The regional situation underscores the urgent need to work collectively to lower tensions and prevent conflict. The first step towards de‑escalation is identifying viable confidence‑building measures that could address issues of mutual concern.
The experience of the cold war shows that — independent of confrontations and the deep divisions of the time - it was possible to launch the Helsinki process. Several countries have made suggestions — as have I — in this regard with respect to the situation in the Persian Gulf region. It has not yet been possible to achieve consensus from all the key actors that 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 value of establishing a new regional security architecture to address the legitimate security concerns of all stakeholders.
As we mark the seventy‑fifth anniversary of the founding of our Organization, the United Nations will continue our work to help reduce tensions in the Persian Gulf region. Consistent with the United Nations Charter and my own good offices role, I stand ready to convene any form of regional dialogue that may have the necessary consensus of all the relevant parties involved.
We also fully support efforts such as those launched by Kuwait to promote dialogue and resolve tensions between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. I hope that that dispute can be resolved soon, at a time when unity is needed to address the many challenges facing the region. I want to once again recognize and salute the mediating work of His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al Sabah, who tragically passed away earlier this month.
In relation to regional stability, the issue of nuclear non-proliferation is critical. Since the beginning, I have always seen 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 deter us.
Let us work to create a climate of trust and improve the prospects for regional dialogue. Let us move beyond destructive rivalries and recognize what unites us. Let us keep the interests of the region’s people front and centre – their aspirations for freedoms, opportunities, better standards of life and peace. This, above all, should compel us to intensify our collective efforts.