Russia has vetoed a Western-sponsored UN resolution aimed at pressuring Iran over alleged violations of the UN's arms embargo on Yemeni rebels.
Russia deployed its veto in the United Nations Security Council late on February 26 despite the council's 11-2 vote in favor of the resolution and an agreement by Western powers on the council to drop language promising "additional measures" against Iran if it doesn't stop the alleged transfer of Iranian missiles and drones to Yemen's Huthi rebels.
"Today, Russia protected the terrorist-sponsoring regime in Iran," said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley in a statement after the veto, which suggested that the United States will seek alternatives to UN action.
"If Russia is going to use its veto to block action against Iran's dangerous and destabilizing conduct, then the United States and our partners will need to take actions against Iran that the Russians cannot block," she said.
Britain's UN delegation, which drafted the vetoed resolution, had sought to secure Russia's support by removing language condemning Iran for allegedly allowing the transfer of Iranian arms to the Shi'ite rebels as well as removing any threat of UN action over the alleged embargo violations.
The resolution's proposed condemnation of Iran was based on a report by UN experts last month which concluded that Tehran was in violation of the 2015 Yemeni arms embargo because it "failed to take the necessary measures" to prevent the transfer of Iranian-made Qiam missiles and drones to Yemen.
"This council needs to stand firm in the face of state noncompliance and send a clear message that it will not be tolerated," said Britain's Deputy UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen.
But Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said the resolution was based on "selective and contentious conclusions" about Iran's involvement in the civil war between Yemen's Huthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government and would have had "dangerous, destabilizing ramifications" for the region.
Nebenzya traveled to Washington last month to view Iranian missile fragments the Pentagon said it received from Saudi Arabia, which it said proved that the Huthis had used Iranian weapons to attack Riyadh several times last year.
But on February 26, Nebenzya said the U.S. conclusion that Iran had supplied the rebels was "uncorroborated" and he said the evidence "requires verification and discussions within the sanctions committee" before the UN council can act on it.
Iran's UN Mission said on February 26 that it "categorically rejects allegations regarding arms transfers to Yemen."
"Today, the U.S. and U.K. attempted to misuse Security Council procedures to advance their political agenda and put the blame of all that has happened in Yemen on Iran by pushing an unwarranted draft resolution," it said in a statement.
The Iranian mission accused Britain and the United States, both allies and arms suppliers of Saudi Arabia, of being "major military supporters of the war of aggression against Yemen."
Yemen, the Arab world's most impoverished country with a population of 26 million, plunged into war in 2014 after the Huthis took over the capital, Sanaa, and forced the internationally recognized government to flee and seek support from neighboring Gulf Arab countries.
In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began a devastating bombing campaign against the Huthis that the UN estimates has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 2 million, and created the world's worst humanitarian disaster.
The UN estimates that 17 million people in Yemen -- 60 percent of the population -- are in need of food aid, of whom 7 million are on the brink of famine because of the conflict.
Because of Iran's backing of the Huthis and Saudi Arabia's backing of the Yemeni government, the civil war has been viewed as a proxy war between the two regional rivals.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump last year agreed to sell the Saudis more than $100 billion in weapons, despite concerns among some members of Congress about the toll on Yemeni civilians from the Saudis' bombing campaign.
Iran has accused Washington of "participation and responsibility" for what it says are “atrocities committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen."
But the United States has accused Iran of being the aggressor and has pressed the UN council repeatedly to take action to punish Tehran.
U.S. envoy Kelley Currie accused Russia and other countries that did not support the vetoed resolution to put pressure on Iran of "deciding to shield Tehran from responsibility."
Russia was joined by Bolivia in opposing the resolution, while China and Kazakhstan abstained from voting.
Immediately after the resolution was vetoed, the council unanimously passed a resolution drafted by Russia to extend the arms embargo on the Yemeni rebels for another year. The embargo was due to expire at midnight on February 26.
The approved resolution made no mention of Iran.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa