Haley’s ‘Smoking Gun’ on Iran Met With Skepticism at U.N.
She claims 'undeniable evidence' that Iran is violating U.N. restrictions. But not everyone is on board yet.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, claimed Thursday that the international body has obtained “undeniable” evidence that Iran supplied Yemeni insurgents with missiles and other arms.
But U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres reached no such conclusion in his report this month that addresses U.S. and Saudi claims the Houthi insurgents fired Iranian short-range ballistic missiles that nearly missed Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport on Nov. 4.
A U.N. panel of experts has reviewed missile fragments from the strike that show the missile resembles the Qiam-1, an Iranian-made Scud variant that lacks the tail fins typically found in Yemen’s previously known missile arsenal. The panel noted in a confidential report, which was obtained by Foreign Policy, that the missile also contained a tail component that bore the logo of an Iranian company targeted by U.S. and U.N. sanctions.
But the panel, which reported that the missile also contained an American-made component, concluded it “has no evidence as to the identity of the broker or supplier.”
While the presence of Iranian missile parts has strengthened the circumstantial case for the regime’s role in the Yemen conflict, some of Haley’s counterparts on the U.N. Security Council aren’t yet willing to point the finger at Tehran.
Sweden’s U.N. ambassador, Olof Skoog, who serves as a non-permanent Security Council member and has access to the confidential U.N. panel report, said Haley “may be in possession of evidence I have not seen. The information I have up to now is less clear” that Iran is the culprit.
Standing on a stage at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, home to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Haley said the U.N. “makes a convincing case that Iran is illegally providing the Houthi militants in Yemen with dangerous weapons.”
Haley spoke in front of a display filled with previously classified debris linked to Tehran’s missile program, which included a spent missile tube, charts, broken missile fragments, and a component made by an Iranian firm, Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group. She said some of the evidence presented was on loan from the Saudi and Emirati governments, and added she was inviting all members of the U.N. Security Council and Congress to come inspect the equipment.
The U.N. secretary-general’s report, she said, “provides devastating evidence of missiles, conventional arms, and explosives, and “explosive boats” of Iranian origin used by the rebels in Yemen — all of which violate U.N. resolutions.”
Iran immediately hit back at Haley, denying it has provided Yemen’s Houthi fighters with any weapons, and likening the American ambassador’s presentation to that of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Powell falsely claimed that Iraq had a secret weapons of mass destruction program in a now-infamous presentation before the United Nations in February 2003 which included a show-and-tell of blown-up satellite images and a vial of white powder, intended to represent alleged Iraqi anthrax production.
Iranian U.N. mission spokesman Alireza Miryusefi issued a statement Thursday on behalf of Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo “categorically” rejecting Haley claims as “unfounded and, at the same time, irresponsible, provocative and destructive.”
“These accusations seek also to cover up for the Saudi war crimes in Yemen, with the US complicity, and divert attention from the stalemate war of aggression against the Yemenis.”
Haley’s press conference on Thursday followed her efforts in recent weeks to persuade the U.S. military and intelligence community to declassify evidence of Iranian misbehavior in the region, as Foreign Policy first reported. The administration, which has been isolated over its rejection of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, has been trying to redirect the world’s attention towards Tehran’s conduct in the Middle East.
“The fight against Iranian aggression is the world’s fight,” Haley said. “As you know, we do not often declassify this type of military equipment recovered from these attacks. But today we are taking an extraordinary step of presenting it here in an open setting.”
As part of that effort, the United States pushed the U.N. to be more vocal in criticizing Iran in the U.N. secretary-general’s periodic report on Iranian compliance with the nuclear accord.
The report, which was distributed to U.N. Security Council members on Friday, concludes that Iran is complying with its obligations under the nuclear accord. But it also documents evidence of Iranian weapons shipments in the region, and the frequent violation of a U.N. travel ban by a senior Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was spotted this year traveling throughout Syria and Iraq. The report also confirmed that a cache of weapons — including 900 assault rifles and 100 rocket-propelled grenade launchers seized by the United States in the Gulf of Oman — were of Iranian origin.
The U.N. secretary-general’s report also described similarities between missiles used by Houthis and those manufactured by Iran. But it stopped short of reaching any conclusions, saying that the U.N. secretariat “is still analyzing the information collected and will report back to the Security council, as appropriate, in due course.”
“This was the strongest secretary-general’s report that we have seen in reference to the violations by Iran, and we don’t intend to let that go,” Haley told reporters in a press conference at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington on Thursday. “The evidence is undeniable. The evidence might as well have had ‘Made in Iran’ stickers all over it,” she said.
Haley said it was an “undeniable fact” that Iran’s behavior in the Middle East has gotten worse since the nuclear deal was struck in 2015.
She did not highlight the massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where a devastating war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition has pushed some 7 million civilians to the brink of famine. The Trump administration has faced growing scrutiny from human rights organizations and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for continuing to back Saudi Arabia’s operations in Yemen, where it had indiscriminately targeted civilians and imposed a crippling blockade on deliveries of food and humanitarian supplies to Yemen’s key ports. In late November, Riyadh began easing the international blockade in response to U.S. and international pressure.
Trump in October refused to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal over a chorus of opposition from the United Nations and European allies, instead passing the buck to Congress to determine whether Iran was cooperating.
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch