World

Saudi Prince Meets UN Chief Amid Row Over Yemeni Children Deaths

Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (left) greets UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the UN headquarters in New York, US, June 22. Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (left) greets UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the UN headquarters in New York, US, June 22. Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

UN: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince on June 22 and the pair discussed improving civilian protection in Yemen after a UN report briefly blacklisted a Saudi-led coalition for killing children.

Ki-moon removed the coalition from the blacklist earlier this month pending review after Riyadh, a major UN donor, threatened to cut Palestinian aid and other UN funding. Saudi Arabia has denied using threats, although Ki-moon blasted Riyadh for exerting “unacceptable” pressure.

When asked on his way into the meeting if he was still upset with Ki-moon, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is in New York for business meetings after visiting Washington and the US West Coast, said: “I’m not angry.”

Prince Mohammed, who was 45 minutes late for the meeting, simply smiled when Ki-moon told him that he stood by the UN report on children and armed conflict, a diplomatic source told Reuters.

The UN report said the coalition, which began an air campaign in March 2015 to defeat Iran-allied Houthi rebels, was responsible for 60 % of child deaths and injuries in the conflict last year, killing 510 and wounding 667.

An official UN statement said Ki-moon and Prince Mohammed discussed “putting into place concrete measures that could improve the situation on the ground” to better protect children and civilians in Yemen.

“The Secretary-General expressed the hope that by the time he presents the children and armed conflict report to the Security Council in August, he could point to progress on the protection of children and civilians in Yemen,” it said.

Prince Mohammed, who is also the kingdom’s defence minister, did not answer questions when he left. Saudi UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi described the meeting as excellent.

“The focus was on international issues, especially the issues of the region and there was broad agreement on virtually everything that was discussed,” Mouallimi told reporters.

He said Ki-moon and Saudi Arabia were both optimistic about peace talks in Kuwait between the government and Houthis, which have dragged on for two months with few concrete results.

Leila Zerrougui, the UN envoy on children and armed conflict, opposed Ban’s decision to remove the coalition from the blacklist, despite Saudi threats that the UN could face a fatwa declaring it anti-Muslim, diplomatic sources said.

A fatwa is a legal opinion used in Sharia, or Islamic law. In Saudi Arabia fatwas can be issued only by the group of top, government-appointed clerics and are sometimes commissioned by the ruling family to back up its political positions.

(Reuters)