June 22nd , United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince on Wednesday and the pair discussed improving civilian protection in Yemen after a U.N. report briefly blacklisted a Saudi-led coalition for killing children.
Prince Mohammed, who was 45 minutes late for the meeting, simply smiled when Ban told him that he stood by the U.N. report on children and armed conflict, a diplomatic source told Reuters.
Ban removed the coalition from the blacklist earlier this month pending review after Riyadh, a major U.N. donor, threatened to cut Palestinian aid and other U.N. funding. Saudi Arabia has denied using threats, although Ban blasted Riyadh for exerting “unacceptable” pressure.
According to Reuters, when asked on his way into the meeting if he was still upset with Ban, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is in New York for business meetings after visiting Washington and the U.S. West Coast, said: “I’m not angry.”
The U.N. report said the coalition, which began an air campaign in March 2015, was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in the conflict last year, killing 510 and wounding 667.
An official U.N. statement said Ban 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.
Reuters also reported that prince Mohammed, who is also the kingdom’s defense minister, did not answer questions when he left. Saudi U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi described the meeting as excellent.
He said Ban and Saudi Arabia were both optimistic about peace talks in Kuwait between the exile- government and Houthis.
Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. envoy on children and armed conflict, opposed Ban’s decision to remove the coalition from the blacklist, despite Saudi threats that the U.N. could face a fatwa declaring it anti-Muslim, diplomatic sources said.
Reuters pointed out that Saudis 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.