British UN Ambassador to Asharq Al-Awsat: A Lot of Middle East Instability Caused by Iran

British UN Ambassador to Asharq Al-Awsat: A Lot of Middle East Instability Caused by Iran

Monday, 18 June, 2018 - 19:00
Britain’s permanent representative to the United Nations Karen Pierce speaks to Asharq Al-Awsat.
New York - Ali Barada
Britain’s permanent representative to the United Nations Karen Pierce accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) of destabilizing the Middle East.

In her first interview with an Arab media portal since assuming her post at the beginning of the year, she called through Asharq Al-Awsat for a comprehensive political settlement that would see Iranians withdraw from Yemen.

She noted that there are a number of lessons that could be derived from last week’s summit in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I think you are right to say that the Iranians have lots of fingers in lots of pies, and I think personally that the Iranians should start a better conversation with the West, including America, but also including UK, France and Germany and the EU about how best to bring stability to the Middle East,” Pierce said.

“A lot of that instability is caused fundamentally by the actions of the IRGC, and I don’t want to pretend that Iran does not have legitimate security interests in the region, of course it does and we accept that.”

“But the way the IRGC pursues those interests often has a destabilizing effect and sometime they pursue issues for example in Yemen, where Iran’s security interests are not directly engaged,” remarked the British diplomat.

“We accept that Iran has legitimate security interests, but some of her activity over ballistic missiles goes beyond any rational need that she may have.”

Pierce continued: “But we would contend that they have too many missiles, too many pointed at Israel, too many being shipped to the Houthis to be fired on Saudi Arabia and UAE.”

“A way should be found to constrain Iranian development and production and use of those missiles. So that would not be a blanket ban on the production of all missiles.”

The interview then shifted to Iran’s role in Syria, supporting its regime leader Bashar Assad, in Lebanon, supporting “Hezbollah”, and in Yemen, supporting the Houthis.

Pierce said: “I think the countries of the region have the primary responsibility to bring about stability in the region.

“In Yemen, there need to be a political settlement with the Houthis, but also with other internal Yemeni groups for more inclusive political settlement that sees the Iranians ultimately leave Yemen militarily and sees foreign fighters leave Yemen militarily.”

“In Syria we all know there needs to be a political settlement. We are trying to support the UN in bringing one about, we are urging the Russians and the Iranians to their influence to bring a political settlement about … eventually some form of dialogue will be needed between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” she added.

On the recent developments in Yemen’s Hodeidah, she noted: “The situation is very concerning.”

“We have been very clear, and I was clear in the UN Security Council that the attacks against Saudi Arabia and the UAE by the Houthis with missiles, some of which supplied from Iran, are not legitimate and should cease, and that both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have legitimate security concerns emanating from Yemen that must be addressed.”

“But overall there be no military solution in Yemen. There need to be a political settlement and that’s what the UN envoy Martin Griffiths has been working on. In respect with Hodeidah, the UN is trying to negotiate a withdrawal from Hodeidah by the Houthis.”

“Iran is supplying some of the missiles the Houthis are using,” she reiterated. “The Council has already passed resolutions about the supply of missiles to the Houthis and there are expert panels that report on this from time to time and then the council discusses what is happening.”

On Griffiths’ plan for peace in Yemen, she said: “First of all, I think we would like the Houthis be evacuated from Hodeidah in line with earlier Security Council resolutions. We’d like the port of Hodeidah and Salif to stay open, because they are vital lifelines for the Yemeni people.”

“It would be foolish to put a timeline on that.”

Turning to Syria, Pierce said: “I don’t consider everything Russia has been doing is directed towards bringing about peace. In fact, I would say on the contrary, most of what Russia has been doing has been directed to helping Assad on the ground, including to attack his own people.”

“That’s not to say there have not been some helpful Russian efforts manifestly they have the de-escalation zones, Astana, it maybe now that the Russian are helping Staffan de Mistura getting his constitutional committee off the ground, but I don’t think they use their influence with Assad to the greatest extent that they could and we would look to them to do more of that.”

On whether Assad or any other official would be put on trial for using chemical weapons in Syria, Pierce stated: “A lot of things would need to happen and we are a long way from being able to take someone to a court for use of chemical weapons, which is as weapon of mass destruction, are universally prohibited and also prohibited under the chemical weapon convention.”

“So, it will be a case of using a case of using a national court in Syria or elsewhere. But the most important thing is that there should be a proper mechanism, international mechanism for determining who used the chemical weapons to evidentiary or similar standards and then there should be accountability for that. If there isn’t a court yet then the evidence should be gathered and the case made against the day when those perpetrators responsible can be taken to a court.”

On her Russian counterpart, Vassily Nebenzia saying it is dangerous to beef up the ability of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) towards giving it the ability to attribute the responsibility on chemical attacks, she remarked: “I would like to know why he thinks it is dangerous.”

“It doesn’t strike that it is dangerous to have an attribution mechanism. It strikes us that it is necessary to have an attribution mechanism and in being able to show there is accountability for using these prohibited weapons. It strikes me that makes the world safer because it acts as a deterrence against other people trying to use them in the future. So the Security Council will have another meeting on this and we will ask the Russians to explain why it is dangerous to have an attribution mechanism.”

“What we want to do is to bolster the international regime prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. So, it strikes us that the most effective way of doing that is to use the organization under the chemical weapon convention that has the responsibility for looking the prohibition of chemical weapon and that is the OPCW in the Hague. One would have to wonder why the Russians are so keen on the Security Council and one might conclude it is because they have the veto.”

On whether the West has given up on ousting Assad, Pierce said: “We deal with the reality of the world as it is and it is clear that setting pre-conditions for the political process will not work, and therefore we are willing to work with the Russians and others and the UN to try and drive the political process forward, and we will not set pre-conditions that may get on the way of that.”

Turning to the developments in Gaza and London’s abstention on voting on a text that demands international protection for the Palestinians, she stressed: “We look to these texts to be balanced in order for us, as the UK, to be able to vote in favor, and the text that I’ve seen of the General Assembly resolution is not at the moment balanced, in particular, it does not condemn Hamas.”

“I think the other difficulties is that the reference to a protection mechanism is very vague, and therefore we would not be clear what we were signing up to. So, we think it would be more useful to have a conversation about the situation on the ground in more detail and about might be envisage about the protection mechanism.”

Turning to Libya, she commented: “The Paris meeting was helpful. It had all the issues. it set out possible way forward. I think you are right, over the next couple of months, the council should have a more in-depth conversation with UN special envoy Ghassan Salameh.”

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