US to End Support for Saudis in Yemen War

Security men wearing protective masks stand on a street during a 24-hour curfew amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa, Yemen May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
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President Biden on Thursday announced an end to U.S. support for offensive operations in the Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen.

“This war has to end,” Biden said during an address at the State Department. “And to underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales.”

Biden also confirmed he has appointed veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking as his special envoy to Yemen, saying Lenderking will work with the United Nations and “all parties to the conflict to push for a diplomatic resolution.”

What won’t change: Biden’s announcement will not affect U.S. military operations against Yemen’s al Qaeda affiliate because those are “actions that we undertake in service of protecting the homeland and protecting American interests in the region and our allies and partners,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said ahead of Biden’s speech.

In choosing to end support for offensive operations in Yemen, Biden has taken a step toward fulfilling a campaign promise to review the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, which he at one point described as a “pariah” state.

But he also stressed Thursday the United States would continue defending Saudi Arabia against attacks.

“Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, [drone] strikes and other threats from Iranian supplied forces in multiple countries,” Biden said. “We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity and its people.”

What US has been doing: The United States has been providing logistics and military support to a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen’s civil war, as well as billions of dollars in weapons sales. Last week, the State Department announced it was pausing and reviewing arms sales to the Saudis, as well as to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Officials in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which is also part of the Yemen coalition, have been notified of Biden’s decision to end support of offensive operations, Sullivan said.

The background: Support for the Saudi coalition began during the Obama administration as the administration sought to mend ties after Saudi opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. The coalition is fighting Houthi rebels that U.S. officials say receive weapons and other support from Iran.

But opposition to U.S. support for the war mounted as thousands of civilians were killed in Saudi bombing raids. The United Nations has also warned Yemen is on the verge of widespread catastrophic famine.

U.S. lawmakers in both parties have also been increasingly opposed to support for the Saudis after their killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The Trump administration ended the U.S. military’s aerial refueling of Saudi jets in the war amid the mounting opposition but in other ways ramped up support for the Saudis, which it saw as critical to its so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

Former President Trump pushed through an $8.1 billion arms sale to the Saudis in 2019 over congressional opposition by invoking “emergency” authorities, citing alleged threats by Iran.

Support for decision: Longtime opponents of the war in Yemen hailed Biden’s decision Thursday to end support for offensive operations but stressed it should be just a first step.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era in our foreign policy — one that prioritizes human rights and diplomatic solutions,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

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