Q&A with Jonathan Allen, UK Chargé d’Affaires to the UN
Jonathan Guy Allen, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, addresses the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Ukraine at UN Headquarters in New York City on November 26, 2018. (Shutterstock/Lev Radin)

Ambassador Jonathan Allen has served as chargé d’affaires to the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations in New York since March 2020. He was appointed UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in August 2017, and was Acting Director General, Defence and Intelligence from November 2016 to April 2017. In correspondences with the Sana’a Center, Ambassador Allen discussed UK and UN Security Council policies regarding the Yemen conflict, UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia, UNSC Resolution 2216, and the potential for environment disaster in the Red Sea related to the Safer oil terminal:

Sana’a Center: Your Excellency, on the sidelines of the 75th UN General Assembly in New York, your government co-hosted, along with Sweden and Kuwait, a meeting on September 17 to discuss the situation in Yemen. What do you see as the role of this group, as it has agreed to reconvene a meeting at a senior-official level within six months in Berlin? And how (if at all) it is different from the Quad group on Yemen?

Ambassador Jonathan Allen:  The “P5+” group, which met on the 17th of September this year, is an important mechanism for the international community to demonstrate its unity in support of a sustainable peace in Yemen and avoid the threat of famine. The initial group, which met in the margins of UN General Assembly week last year, comprised of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council (the “P5”) and those countries with a leading historic voice on Yemen. The Quad consists of the UK, USA, UAE and Saudi Arabia and helps coordinate their action. For example, Quad Ambassadors recently met to discuss how best to support the stabilization of Yemen’s economy. Such public facing groups support the frequent private engagements we have and allow us to make clear to the parties that they must put aside their differences and urgently agree a deal. A political solution is the only way to alleviate the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

SC: The UN Security Council (UNSC) has been in something of a holding pattern regarding Yemen since the Stockholm Agreement in late 2018, giving the current UN Special Envoy broad latitude to conduct consultations with minimal intervention. What will the UK do to influence the behavior of Yemen’s warring parties toward a peace settlement? Is the UK in favor of supporting the Special Envoy through the use of more UNSC sanctions — directed at all sides — to influence actors on the ground?

Amb. Allen: Through a combination of public and private diplomacy, the UK is playing a leading role in supporting UN efforts. In addition to facilitating the aforementioned P5+ meeting, the UK has been active in engaging the region. On October 6, Minister [James] Cleverly [responsible for the Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office] spoke with the Yemeni Foreign Minister about the peace process and developments in the South. On September 8, the Defence Secretary [Ben Wallace] spoke to Omani Foreign Minister Badr [al-Busaidi] about support for UN Special Envoy (UNSE) Martin Griffiths. On September 2, the Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] discussed Yemen with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And on July 1, the Foreign Secretary [Dominic Raab] wrote a joint op-ed with his Swedish and German counterparts calling for the international community to back peace efforts.

The UNSC has a vital role to play: it shines a light into the darkness of conflict, holds actors to account, and helps galvanize international action. To that effect, the UNSC meets monthly to receive briefings from UNSE Griffiths and other important voices including Under Secretary-General (Humanitarian) Mark Lowcock and Head of UNMHA General [Abhijit] Guha. Resolutions are another important tool for the UNSC. For example, UNSCR 2511 (2020) condemned appalling sexual violence in Yemen as well as the use of children in conflict. UNSC sanctions are an important instrument in disrupting actions of targeted individuals and holding them to account. The use of sanctions, however, should be considered strategically and in the UNSC we seek to employ them to support the peace process. I note that the Panel of Experts has recently developed a concerning body of evidence about the Houthi official Sultan Zabin.

Finally, I want to reiterate my call for the Yemeni parties – by which I mean the government of Yemen just as much as the Houthis – to cooperate with UNSE Griffiths and to agree to his proposals as soon as possible. The window of opportunity to end this conflict will close and it is in the hands of the parties to work with Martin Griffiths to reach an agreement. It is in their hands whether they are ready to act in the interests of their people or only in their own self-interest. If they do not, the Council should be ready to take action.”

SC: The UN Security Council is the world’s preeminent body for the maintenance of peace and security, and as pen holder on the Yemen file, the United Kingdom is entrusted with drafting council statements and resolutions to this end regarding the ongoing conflict. At the same time, the UK provides military and logistics support for the Saudi-led military coalition, a major party to the war in Yemen. How would you respond to critics who say this creates an inherent conflict of interest that undermines the impartiality of Security Council interventions related to Yemen? While noting that further engagement with the coalition during the past five years hasn’t necessarily stopped Saudi-led coalition bombing of schools, civilians, or prevented violations of international humanitarian laws.

Amb. Allen: A political settlement is the only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and to address the worsening humanitarian crisis. We fully support the peace process led by UNSE Martin Griffiths, and urge the parties to engage constructively with this process. The UK is playing a leading role in responding to the crisis in Yemen both through its humanitarian response and using its diplomatic influence. The UK has used its role as penholder at the UN Security Council to help push the Yemen peace process forward.

The UK operates one of the most comprehensive export control regimes in the world. The UK takes alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) extremely seriously. We will not issue any export licences when there is a clear risk of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Every licence application is rigorously assessed against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export licensing Criteria. The UK regularly raises the importance of IHL and of conducting thorough and conclusive investigations into alleged violations with Saudi Arabia, including at senior levels.

SC: It’s been 5 1/2 years since UNSC Resolution 2216 was adopted, do you think it is in need of updating or replacing? If so, what do you think a new UNSC resolution should include?

Amb. Allen: We believe UNSCR 2216 is currently fit for purpose and gives the latitude for UNSE Griffiths to operate. The UN process is the best chance for a sustainable peace in Yemen and so we are encouraging the parties to engage constructively with UNSE Griffiths on his proposals. We do recognize there will likely be a need for a UNSCR to endorse any subsequent deal that is agreed.

SC: What will the UNSC, especially the UK as a permanent member, do to influence the Houthis’ decision regarding the Safer oil terminal, which essentially holds the entire Red Sea region hostage by denying access to UN experts? What is the diplomatic community doing to prevent this imminent catastrophe?

Amb. Allen: The UK has put this issue on the international agenda. UK-funded research identified the threat posed by the tanker – a spill four times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill and costing up to $20 billion – and this was used by the UN and the US to underpin their assessments. The UK, working with Germany, called a standalone UNSC session to raise awareness of this threat and establish international consensus that the Houthis need to urgently grant the UN access to the tanker to assess its condition and carry out urgent repairs.

We regularly raise Safer in engagements with the Houthis directly and with international partners. Minister Cleverly discussed it with Yemeni Foreign Minister Hadhrami on October 6, Saudi Ambassador Khalid bin Bandar on August 5, and with Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on June 20. The Foreign Secretary called on the international community to do more to pressure the Houthis to agree to facilitate the UN mission during the aforementioned P5+ Ministerial meeting on Yemen he co-hosted on September 17. It is important that the Safer issue remains in the forefront of the international community’s mind until the Houthis facilitate UN access to the tanker and allow resolution of the problem. Given the ship’s location, it is clear the Houthis are the blockers and it is they who will be held accountable should a leak occur.

The UK has already contributed 2.5 million pounds to fund the UN mission for the tanker and we are considering what more we can do to support the UN to develop robust contingency plans.

This Q & A first appeared in Battle for Marib – The Yemen Review, September 2020.


The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies is an independent think-tank that seeks to foster change through knowledge production with a focus on Yemen and the surrounding region. The Center’s publications and programs, offered in both Arabic and English, cover diplomatic, political, social, economic, military, security, humanitarian and human rights related developments, aiming to impact policy locally, regionally, and internationally.

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