TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi King’s Absence at Obama Summit Moves Spotlight to Mysterious Son

An undated handout file photograph made available by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows the then newly-appointed Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
EPA An undated handout file photograph made available by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows the then newly appointed Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

With King Salman set to miss Obama's summit of Gulf nations, U.S. officials can size up his powerful son

On one hand, the announcement that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will not attend President Obama’s Camp David summit of Gulf Arab monarchs on Thursday, despite having earlier accepted the invitation, highlights all over again the considerable strains between Washington and Riyadh. In the four months since Salman came to power, the Kingdom has defied the U.S. by starting one war in Yemen and reviving the most problematical elements in another, sending new support to the Syrian opposition forces that include the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

On the other hand, the king’s absence—ostensibly to deal with a brief cease-fire in Yemen, but widely viewed as a snub—will give U.S. officials a chance to size up the young fellow who the monarch has invested with immense new powers: His son, also known as the Minister of Defense, as well as president of the royal court. Mohammad bin Salman may be 29, as some accounts have it, or 34, the age offered in other reports. Or somewhere in between. The uncertainty speaks volumes about how little is known of the fresh-faced young prince, derided by the Supreme Leader of arch-rival Iran as “an inexperienced youngster.”

“I don’t think anybody knows who he is,” says F. Gregory Gause III, head of the international affairs department of the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service. “He’s never had a job where he had a counterpart with Americans in bilateral talks. I think there’ll be plenty of people looking to size him up.”

The jobs that young bin Salman holds are known well enough. Defense is a ministry awash in money. “That’s where the rake-offs occur in the system,” says Charles A. Freeman, who was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. And head of the royal court is basically chief of staff, putting the king’s son in daily charge of the ruling apparatus.

But the lack of information about bin Salman himself says a great deal about how fast the ground is shifting in the Middle East—and especially in the House of Saud, the family that has ruled the Kingdom since it appeared on the sands of the Arabian Peninsula in 1932. Saudi-watchers used to be the Middle East’s version of the Kremlinologists who studied the Soviet Union. The players in both places moved at processional speed and change, should it occur, was glacial. But then Salman took power following the January death of his brother Abdullah, who ruled for 10 years.

“Basically what’s happened in Saudi Arabia since the death of Abdullah is a series of political coup d’etats,” says Freeman. “In Arabia, genealogy is ideology and lineage really is faction. In any one-party system you have factions, and in a one-family system you have factions.” Despite Salman’s reputation as a conciliator between branches of the family, since ascending to the throne, Freeman says, “he’s basically cut them all out.”

Salman, 79, was expected to be the Saudi ruler who prepared for the inevitable transfer of power to a younger generation of Saudi princes. But rather than casting the net wide, he designated his nephew as the new Crown Prince—the first grandson of the founding King, Abdulaziz, to be so named—and his own young son Mohammad as Deputy Crown Prince, or second in line. The nephew is already well known in Washington: Mohammad bin Nayef, 55, has long been Interior Minister and run the Saudis’ counter-terror operations; he has twice met with President Obama in the Oval Office. But in selecting him, the king reached past hundreds of waiting princes.

“The model was kind of corporate leadership within a number of senior members of the older generation, and they didn’t always get along and they didn’t always agree, but they had a general corporate sense of where they wanted the country to go and it worked well for more than 50 years,” says Gause. “I thought the new king would try to recreate that kind of corporate responsibility across a number of people in the new generation, but that’s obviously not what Salman wanted. He’s privileged a couple of people and cut out a large number. And how that affects family cohesion down the line will be interesting to watch.”

For now, the war in Yemen, aimed at a Shi’ite rebel group advancing in the neighboring state, has provided a rallying effect at home. It also had the effect of forcing the U.S. to provide battlefield intelligence and targeting information (“not to support them would leave the relationship with no content,” says Freeman). But the fundamental problem remains Iran, the Saudis’ great regional rival. Riyadh feels threatened not only by Tehran’s gains in Iraq and Yemen, and continued support for the Assad regime in Syria, but—even more—by Obama’s engagement with the Iranians. Along with fellow members of the Sunni-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council, they feel threatened by the attention Washington is paying to Iran, in a region where attention equals prestige, or even license. Already almost wholly reliant on the U.S. for their defense, the Gulf Arab monarchs are asking for a formal treating with Washington guaranteeing their protection, something Obama officials say they cannot provide.

“I think their fears that we are going to just throw them over and that Iran will be our big ally in the region are greatly exaggerated,” says Gause. But those are the fears that prompted the Obama administration to convene the Camp David summit. And if King Salman cannot make it, Freeman says, he may have sussed it out as a “pseudo-event.”

“The Saudis and others have learned from Israel that you can give the United States the bird,” says Freeman. But that, the former ambassador adds, may work out for the best at Camp David. “Having the two Mohammads—bin Nayef and bin Salman—in this thing puts the two people who are actually running things in there. So if there’s something that’s actually going on in Saudi Arabia, these are the two who can make things happen.”

TIME

Cargo Ship Seized by Iran Released, Operator Says

Iranian forces seized the ship April 28

(BERLIN) — The operator of a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship seized by Iran says the vessel has been released and that the crew are all in good condition.

Rickmers Ship Management told The Associated Press in an e-mail Thursday that the MV Maersk Tigris had been released following a court order. It will now continue its scheduled voyage to Jebel Ali, in the United Arab Emirates, where it will be met by representatives from Rickmers and others.

Iranian forces seized the ship April 28 as it traversed the Strait of Hormuz. It was taken to Bandar Abbas, the main port of Iran’s navy, under escort by Iranian patrol boats.

Iran claimed that the Danish shipping company that chartered the ship, Maersk Line, owed money to an Iranian firm. Rickmers’ statement did not mention whether any money was paid and the company spokesman did not immediately return calls.

TIME National Security

U.S. Navy Ships To Protect Shipping from Iran in Persian Gulf

Mideast Iran Gulf Incident
Kamran Jebreili—AP A plane flies over the mountains south of the Strait of Hormuz as the trading dhows and ships are docked on the Persian Gulf waters on Jan. 19, 2012.

Move follows Iran's seizure of a cargo vessel this week

WASHINGTON — U.S. Navy ships will begin accompanying U.S. commercial ships during their transit through the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf to ensure they encounter no interference from Iran, U.S. defense officials said Thursday.

The new policy, which has not yet been announced officially, was adopted in response to what Washington views as provocative Iranian behavior. Earlier this week Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps naval vessels reportedly fired warning shots near a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship and have detained it and its crew.

Iran says it intervened with the Maersk Tigris because the Maersk shipping line owes it money awarded in a lawsuit.

Iranian naval patrol boats also surrounded a U.S. cargo vessel in the strait last Friday before departing without further incident. The Pentagon later said it considered the incident a provocation.

The strait is narrow and partially within Iranian territorial waters. Under an internationally recognized protocol called “innocent passage,” maritime traffic is permitted to pass through the strait without interference, even if ships at times are in Iranian territorial waters, so long as they are not violating strictures against such things as carrying weapons or collecting intelligence.

U.S. defense officials said the decision to begin accompanying U.S. commercial vessels as they transit the strait was based on a recommendation by U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter was briefed on the decision, one official said, adding that the Obama administration does not want the move to be seen as provocative, given the delicate state of the Iran nuclear agreement. The pact has yet to be finalized and is the subject of intense scrutiny and considerable criticism in Congress.

The officials were not authorized to discuss the decision publicly and spoke anonymously.

At an unrelated Pentagon news conference, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove was asked about the decision and said he was aware of it. Breedlove, the top U.S. commander of NATO in Europe, said the Navy is well-practiced at protecting freedom of navigation in the Gulf.

“It is a mission they have done in the past,” he said.

The Navy makes a distinction between accompanying ships and escorting them, although the difference appears to be small. The officials said U.S. Navy ships will be present in and near the Strait of Hormuz while U.S. commercial vessels are in transit, but they will not escort them continuously.

The 5th Fleet, which is the naval arm of Central Command, currently has a destroyer, the USS Farragut, in the Gulf, as well as three smaller coastal patrol ships. No additional ships are being dispatched to the region, one official said.

U.S. Navy ships will be in continuous radio contact with the commercial ships and possibly will stay in visual contact during their transit of the strait, the officials said. The U.S. commercial shipping companies will be notified in advance of these new procedures.

One official said the new approach will be reviewed daily, taking into account Iranian behavior.

The circumstances of Iran’s seizure earlier this week of the MV Maersk Tigris remain unclear. A spokesman for the Danish shipper, Michael Storgaard, said the company learned Thursday that an Iranian appeals court had ruled the company must pay $3.6 million for a 10-container cargo delivered a decade ago on behalf of an Iranian company in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, the cargo never was collected, according to Storgaard, adding it eventually was disposed of by local authorities.

Storgaard said Copenhagen-based Maersk Line will “do everything we can to resolve this matter” with Iranian authorities.

He added the ship and crew aren’t theirs. MV Maersk Tigris, operated by Rickmers Ship Management in Singapore, was boarded on Tuesday.

TIME Innovation

Social Justice and the Cellphone Camera

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Technology’s greatest gift to social justice is the mobile phone camera.

By Robinson Meyer in the Atlantic

2. How did America fall so far behind on basic scientific research?

By Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times

3. The U.S. needs a drone oversight board.

By David Medine and Eliza Sweren-Becker in Defense One

4. Here’s how citizen scientists discovered five new supernovas.

By Calla Cofield in Space.com

5. U.S. CEOs are eager to do business in Iran — but they’re not alone.

By Barbara Slavin in Al-Monitor

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Iran

Shipping Company Says Crew of Vessel Seized by Iran Is Safe

Iranian forces boarded the MV Maresk Tigris on Tuesday after firing warning shots

(BERLIN) — The operator of a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel boarded by Iranian forces as it was traversing the Strait of Hormuz said Wednesday it has confirmed the crew is safe but that the company is still trying to determine why the ship was seized the previous day by Iran.

The MV Maresk Tigris was en route Wednesday to Bandar Abbas, the main port for Iran’s navy, under escort by Iranian patrol boats, according to Maersk Line, the company that had chartered it. Tehran has not offered any clarification on the incident, which comes at a critical time during Iran’s relations with the United States and the West.

Cor Radings, a spokesman for the ship’s operator, Rickmers Ship Management in Singapore, said the company had been in touch by phone with the crew earlier in the day.

“We have had the confirmation that they are in relatively good condition and safe on board the ship,” he said.

Iranian forces remain on board the ship, Radings said, adding there has been no contact yet with Iranian authorities.

Iranian forces boarded the MV Maresk Tigris on Tuesday after firing warning shots across the bridge, prompting the U.S. Navy to dispatch a destroyer and a plane to the area in response.

Radings confirmed reports that there were no Americans on board, identifying the 24 people crew members as “mainly from Eastern Europe and Asia.” He said the ship was owned by “private investors” but would not elaborate.

Iranian state television on Tuesday said the crew members were from Britain, Bulgaria, Romania and Myanmar and that the ship was seized based on a court order due to unspecified violations. Iranian officials could not be reached for comment.

Danish shipper Maersk Line chartered the container ship and was hauling commercial goods and had no “special cargo” such as military equipment, said Radings, speaking by phone from Spain.

Maersk Line spokesman Michael Storgaard would only identify the goods on board as “general cargo” and said his company was still trying to determine why the Iranians had boarded the ship.

“We are not able at this point to establish or confirm the reason behind the seizure,” Storgaard said, adding the ship is en route to Bandar Abbas under Iranian escort.

The U.S., other world powers and Iran are trying to hammer out a final deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Last week, the U.S. Navy dispatched an aircraft carrier and guided missile cruiser to the Arabian Sea amid worries that a convoy of Iranian cargo ships was headed to Yemen to deliver arms to the Shiite rebels fighting to take over Yemen.

In Tuesday’s incident, the intercepted ship was traveling through the narrow Strait, which is technically Iranian and Omani territorial waters, but under international agreement is open to foreign ships making an innocent passage, according to the Pentagon.

It wasn’t clear whether the ship had strayed off course into coastal waters not protected by that agreement.

___

Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this story.

TIME Marco Rubio

The Marco Rubio Amendment That Could Kill the Iran Deal

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Sen. Marco Rubio has proposed a change to the Iran nuclear review bill that could unravel a carefully crafted compromise and kill the Obama Administration’s negotiations.

At issue is a one-page amendment from the Florida Republican and 2016 presidential candidate that would certify as part of the deal that Iran’s leaders have publicly accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, a proposal earlier pushed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Earlier this month, President Obama rejected that idea. “The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” the president told NPR. “And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment. I want to return to this point: We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing. That’s exactly why we don’t want to have nuclear weapons.”

Many Republicans support the idea, however, while some influential Democrats, such as New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, have declined to comment on any amendments.

“If it gets offered, that’s a very hard vote because we all support Israel’s right to exist and Iran recognizing that,” says South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune. “I think that’s awfully hard to vote against but we’ll see how it is structured and if it happens or not.”

After 18 months of negotiations, U.S., Britain, China, France, Russia, Germany and Iran struck a framework agreement on April 2 to limit Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon in exchange for reducing economic sanctions. The negotiators now have about two months to meet their June 30 deadline to seal a comprehensive accord and find a compromise to major issues, including the level of enriched uranium Iran is allowed to stockpile and the pace of the repealed sanctions.

The bipartisan Senate bill prevents the president from waiving Congress’ economic sanctions against Iran for up to 52 days after submitting the agreement’s text to Congress. The Obama Administration had pushed back on the congressional oversight but relented after changes to the bill and evidence that the bill would receive a wave of support. On Tuesday, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker and Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin announced that their bill has a veto-proof 67 co-sponsors.

But Cardin and others believe that Rubio could upend the bill if he introduces his controversial amendment for a vote. The powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC is taking Obama’s side in fear that it might bring the overall deal down, according to Thune. An AIPAC official told TIME that they are requesting senators to “bear in mind” the need to retain consensus and to “refrain from supporting provisions that could harm that bipartisan support.” The official added that AIPAC is supporting the leadership of Corker and Cardin, who says that the Rubio amendment could do three things: derail the bill, hurt the Administration’s negotiations and help Iran. “All three are horrible results,” says Cardin.

Corker urged his Republican colleagues during lunch Tuesday to understand the precious balance of the deal.

“Let’s not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory here,” Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, told TIME.

Rubio’s office declined to comment.

TIME Nepal

Where Will the Next Big Earthquake Hit?

Search and rescue team work among the debris of houses after a powerful earthquake hits Katmandu, Nepal on April 26, 2015.
Sunil Pradhan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Search and rescue team work among the debris of houses after a powerful earthquake hits Katmandu, Nepal on April 26, 2015.

Where seismic activity meets poverty, you have disaster waiting to happen

For years, seismic experts predicted that a big earthquake would hit the Himalayan region between India and Nepal.

The Himalayas are being pushed upwards at the rate of about one centimeter a year as the Indian subcontinent smashes against the Eurasian plate— a process that has been ongoing for millions for years. As the plates thrust against each other huge amounts of pressure builds up until it releases as an earthquake.

The region experiences a magnitude-8 earthquake approximately every 75 years, with the last in 1934. It killed about 10,000 people.

Though it’s impossible to predict exactly when or where big earthquakes will happen, areas where seismic activity meet underdevelopment and poverty are prone to the most devastation.

“In several places, the higher seismic risk overlaps with places with poor construction,” Hari Kumar, South Asia regional coordinator for GeoHazards International in Delhi, told TIME. GeoHazards is a non-government organization that helps to reduce earthquake-risk in developing countries.

The consequences of substandard building and a lack of earthquake preparedness were seen in devastating force in Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake near Kathmandu. Scores of structures collapsed and more than 3,600 lives were lost.

Kumar warns that other cities and towns in Nepal, as well as several in India, Pakistan and Bhutan, are at high risk of a similar disaster due to the activity of the tectonic faults underneath them and their lack of preparation.

“It is not as though Nepal didn’t know about the problem, but that it was so huge they didn’t know where to start,” Kumar says, adding that the country lacked the resources and technical expertise to make existing buildings resistant to earthquakes (a process known as seismic retrofitting). “The government was working against time.”

According to Brian Tucker, the president of GeoHazards, the U.S., New Zealand, Japan, Turkey (particularly Istanbul) and Chile are all high-risk countries where tectonic plates are under strain but they have taken steps to prepare buildings and educate the people in order to mitigate the consequences of a big quake.

“Places you would really shudder to think what would happen are Tehran, Iran; Karachi, Pakistan; Padang, Indonesia and Lima, Peru,” he tells TIME. “If you ask me to place a bet on where the next big earthquake would be, the strongest evidence is offshore Sumatra.”

In 2004, a 9.3 magnitude earthquake struck 100 miles off the northwest tip of Sumatra, Indonesia generating a huge tsunami that killed some 230,000 people and cause widespread devastation.

“Padang is much smaller than Kathmandu so it wouldn’t create the same economic or political chaos that one in Tehran, Karachi or Istanbul would cause,” he said, but he stressed that an earthquake there could trigger a tsunami with similar devastating consequences.

Rapid migration from rural areas to cities worldwide has meant buildings in many cities with poor economies have sprung up quickly to accommodate the new influx of people.

“They don’t have resources to rebuild all the schools, hospitals, houses and apartments according to good building practice,” says Tucker.

Assessing the vulnerability of buildings such as schools and hospitals in these places will go a long way in preventing huge human and financial costs when a big quake strikes, he says. But “We need to create mechanisms to reward and incentivize the private sector to adhere to building codes.”

Read next: Here Are Six Ways you Can Give to Nepal Earthquake Relief

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Iran

Ignore the Noise in Washington and Tehran. An Iran Nuclear Deal Is Still Likely

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses military commanders in Tehran on April 19, 2015,
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses military commanders in Tehran on April 19, 2015,

Despite the criticisms around the Iran negotiations, a deal is still more likely than not. But the real challenge will be implementation

In his first public comments after the U.S. and Iran settled on a nuclear framework agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei pulled no punches: “The whole problem comes now that the details should be discussed, because the other side is stubborn, difficult to deal with, breaks promises and is a backstabber.”

Critics quickly pointed to the statement as proof that hopes for a final deal are evaporating. But the Ayatollah’s combative words don’t move the needle on whether we’ll get a final deal by the June 30 deadline.

Khamenei is posturing for two separate audiences. His hardline supporters in Iran could undermine his political authority if they believe he is capitulating to the West. The Ayatollah needs to placate this group while his negotiators, led by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, hammer out a deal behind closed doors. His second audience is the Western negotiators with whom he is trying to drive a hard bargain. Khamenei’s comments put more pressure on them, and sends a signal to his own negotiators not to cede ground.

But Khamenei authorized Iran’s president to appoint negotiators to work out a deal. The Supreme Leader has praised those negotiators via Twitter. The talks couldn’t have progressed this far if Khamenei wasn’t serious about getting a deal done to escape Western sanctions.

In fact, American detractors of the potential deal are engaging in a very similar form of theater. U.S. politicians want to score political points as much as their Iranian counterparts do: congressional Republicans and GOP presidential hopefuls are badmouthing the deal to ding President Obama and gain traction on the biggest global issue of the day. But the reality is that it will be impossible for Republicans to peel off enough Democrats to reach a veto-proof majority and overturn a final deal. The international community favors an Iran deal, and the American public is wary of undertaking military actions that could lead to another Middle East war.

A final deal between the U.S. and Iran remains more likely than not, but it’s not vitriolic tweets that threaten it most—it’s the remaining sticking points between the two sides. How much enriched uranium would Iran be allowed to stockpile? How much will a deal limit nuclear research using advanced machines? At what pace and in what sequence will the West lift sanctions while Iran carries out its end of the bargain?

These are critical and complex questions, but both sides know that they exist, and nothing that has been said from the sidelines in Tehran or Washington has changed that.

Yet even if the U.S. and Iran manage to agree on a final deal, the negotiations won’t end. The devil lies in the details of implementation. What happens if the U.S. discovers in four or five years that Iran is cheating, hiding nuclear weapons work from inspectors? How feasible will it be to punish Iran for undermining a deal, especially once sanctions are peeled back and Iran emerges from international isolation?

Reaching a deal is one thing. Making sure it doesn’t unravel is something else—and something that may be even tougher.

TIME Iran

Iran Foreign Minister Urges Talks With West to Solve Crisis in Yemen

Smoke rises during an air strike on an army weapons depot on a mountain overlooking Yemen's capital Sanaa April 20, 2015.
Khaled Abdullah—Reuters Smoke rises during an air strike on an army weapons depot on a mountain overlooking Yemen's capital Sanaa April 20, 2015.

Mohammad Javad Zarif says U.S. and its allies must choose between "cooperation and confrontation"

Iran’s Foreign Minister has called for dialogue with the U.S. and Western allies to confront crises in its regional neighbors, saying civil war-torn Yemen would be a “good place to start.”

Mohammad Javad Zarif, who reached a framework agreement on his country’s nuclear program earlier this month with the U.S. and its negotiating partners, also tied the agreement to broader regional cooperation.

“To seal the anticipated nuclear deal, more political will is required,” he wrote in an op-ed article in the New York Times. “It is time for the United States and its Western allies to make the choice between cooperation and confrontation, between negotiations and grandstanding, and between agreement and coercion.”

Zarif, who was named this year as one of the TIME 100 most influential people in the world, said a forum for dialogue in the Sunni Persian Gulf states could help the traditional rivals to solve crises in Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria has seized swathes of territory, and in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has spearheaded airstrikes against the rebel Houthis, a Shi’ite group with ties to Iran. Iran denies allegations that it has armed the group and is calling for a ceasefire.

“If one were to begin serious discussion of the calamities the region faces, Yemen would be a good place to start,” Zarif wrote.

Underscoring the rising violence in Yemen, an airstrike Monday morning in Sana’a, the capital, set off an enormous explosion that shook the city and reportedly killed dozens of people.

Read more at the New York Times.

TIME Yemen

The U.N. Envoy to Yemen Has Quit

YEMEN-POLITICS-UNREST-SOUTH-DIALOGUE
MOHAMMED HUWAIS—AFP/Getty Images Jamal Benomar, UN envoy to Yemen, speaks during a press conference conference in Sanaa December 24, 2013.

Moroccan diplomat Jamal Benomar had lost the support of the Gulf countries in his mission

The U.N. envoy to Yemen has resigned, citing “an interest in moving on to another assignment.”

Jamal Benomar, who has served as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy to the Middle Eastern country since 2012, reportedly threw in the towel due to lack of support from Gulf countries for his peacekeeping endeavors, reports the AFP.

“A successor shall be named in due course,” read a statement from the U.N. “Until that time and beyond, the United Nations will continue to spare no efforts to relaunch the peace process in order to get the political transition back on track.”

Benomar had already mentioned the possibility of resigning in an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, saying he had already expressed his desire to step down to the Secretary-General.

The conflict in Yemen is continuing to escalate as Shi‘ite Houthi rebels march on the country’s major port Aden after capturing the capital city of Sana‘a. The fighting has reportedly killed over 700 people and wounded more than 2,700 others.

The U.N. Security Council earlier this week adopted a resolution calling for the resumption of peace talks, even as coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia continued to carry out air strikes. The Saudi offensive has been criticized by other countries in the region, with Iran — whom it accuses of arming the Houthis — calling it “genocide.”

Iran’s neighbor Iraq also traded barbs with the Saudis on Wednesday, when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said there was “no logic to the operation at all in the first place.” The Saudi ambassador to the U.S. later said there was “no logic” to al-Abadi’s remarks, and denied reports that Yemeni civilians had been killed in some of the air strikes.

Benomar’s successor, meanwhile, has been tipped as Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who currently leads the U.N. Ebola mission in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

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