President Joe Biden will soon fulfill one of his top foreign policy campaign commitment by stopping U.S. offensive support for the aggressive Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday morning.
“He is going to announce an end to American support for offensive operations in Yemen,” Sullivan confirmed Biden’s decision.
The shift has huge connotations for millions of people in Yemen, where the Saudis and their partners ― specifically the United Arab Emirates ― have killed thousands with American support since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in 2015. The riot has brought the already poverty-stricken country to the point of famine, in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Mr. Biden, who signaled during his campaign that he would take a different perspective to Yemen and the Saudi-led military campaign there from that of the Trump rule, will say in a foreign-policy speech that he is appointing Timothy Lenderking, a career diplomat with great experience in Gulf and Yemen affairs, to be his point person on the conflict, a senior administration official said.
“He knows the players. He knows everybody who’s involved in the Yemen conflict,” the senior official said.
Mr. Lenderking’s first task will be to urge the warring parties to take steps toward a cease-fire. The belligerents include the Houthi rebel force that controls most of the country and a Saudi-led military coalition that supports the internationally recognized government based in the port city of Aden. Saudi Arabia considers the Houthis as Iranian proxies, but the rebels deny receiving material support from Tehran.
President Barack Obama greenlit U.S. assistance to the coalition in its fight against a militia backed by the Saudis’ regional rival, Iran. He continued that approach despite developing proof that it involved war crimes and complaints from Democratic lawmakers. During President Donald Trump’s administration, Congress repeatedly passed bipartisan legislation to stop the policy, but Trump vetoed it as he established close ties with the Saudis and Emiratis. He ended one side of support ― aerial refueling for the coalition’s bombing runs due to public reaction over the Saudi role in killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
How far Biden will rebuild the historically warm ties between the U.S. and those controversial Gulf Arab regimes remains unclear. “Let’s see how Biden defines offensive operations this afternoon,” tweeted Kate Kizer of Win Without War. “The results of years of grassroots organizing is finally paying off.”
The response from the Saudis and their partners — as well as Iran — will be crucial for Biden’s broader foreign policy.